Words: Zane Lelo Meslani
There are a few artists in South Africa that take their art and craft seriously, while honing in on empowering activism just by purely existing.
Angel-Ho is one of those few artists doing that. Based in Cape Town, this producer, singer-songwriter and all round icon is making impacts in being a shaping voice that speak for pushing boundaries of gender binaries, structural power and being a visible Black trans woman in an industry that doesn’t always embrace queer bodies.
From her 2015 debut EP Ascension, to her critically acclaimed debut album Death Becomes Her, Angel-Ho makes it a point to explore poignant themes of oppression and violence on non-white bodies using post-industrial and experimental sounds in her music. Signed under Hyperdub, Angel-Ho rises to the top in every occasion internationally and locally by ensuring the future of pop is secure.
Amidst the pandemic and lockdown, Angel-Ho has been able to release some music such as the single Watch Me Dance, a second LP Woman Call described as “leading once more into unfamiliar territory diving into an enchanting rapture of Electro-Pop, Jazz,Hip-Hop, R&B and many more genres. She plays with her subjects, dabbling in love, fame, LGBTQIA empowerment” as well an EP called Battle of Love via Bandcamp and other streaming services.
I got to chat with Angel-Ho to find out more about her artistry, navigating her trans identity in the industry and her future plans as a pop sensation.
Since the release of your debut album Death Becomes Her, how have you evolved as an artist?
Well, a lot has happened since then. I became a full on diva show girl with dancers working with choreographer Berlin WIlliams. We created a show that toured for a year around Europe and it was a success. I learned how to be calmer in my creativity considering I wanted hard hitting vocals on my second album Woman Call. I now realize that all my influences are derived from hip hop and rap. That’s where it all started for me. Even if I sing I still feel as if it’s spoken word, poetry and rapping in a melody. I’m in my Beyoncé Say My Name phase at the moment.
As a trans woman of colour, how have you navigated in the music industry and as a performing artist? Whether locally or overseas.
Thank God drag is an artform. With it I am able to present myself in various manners whether it be safety for going in public – as my assigned gender, whether it be going to the club – in drag as a personality. I navigate spaces depending on the type of responses I want in life. I’m not afraid but I obviously do not want to be harassed or marveled at all the time. There’s a time and place to look grand or feel fabulous. That’s why I value home so much because really it’s a space where although I’m not sharing my life all the time on social media, I get dressed in costumes, stage outfits and feminine couture or simple outfits that’s for my pleasure only. It’s really up to you to make your own happiness at the end of the day.
Please share more about the stories of your 2020 music releases for Watch Me Dance, Battle of Love, Woman Call and how that came about?
I really wanted to move to a more vocal based work and being rejected by labels for my more pop sensible music I decided let me explore it on my own terms and see what comes out of it. I’ve gotten hugely better at songwriting and making pop music. I make a song a day sometimes even 3 a day and that has helped me move freely into different genres of music. Battle of Love is a progressive experimental pop EP (Electronic Playlist) with disco nuances and Detroit House influence as well as 80’s Retro Pop, as if I was Teddy Pendergrass himself. I wanted to add it to my catalogue to show growth and my creative journey to my audience. It truly is a departure from experimental music however I am returning to rap and currently I’m making an album for 2021.
As a queer creative, what has been some of the toughest challenges since being affected by COVID-19 and lockdown restrictions?
Not being able to tour, it’s how I make my money and livelihood. I collaborate with so many people on shoots, music videos, content for my brand however now everything has slowed down drastically. I’m doing odd jobs here and those are fun because I put my knowledge on Fine Arts to good use. So it’s really about being resourceful and doing things out of your comfort.
What do your future plans look like?
I plan on making an experimental hip hop rap album and touring around the world. Moving to Europe if the tone is right. Looking to become even more of an adult really. Maybe getting some titties not sure lol.
Any words of advice or encouragement for the queer community in South Africa?
I want you to know that your dreams and aspirations are valid, I support them. Someone once told me that I was a drop in the ocean and I responded all it takes is one drop for a cup to overflow. Your lives matter and you are important to our community. Your contribution is needed in any way even by just existing. Love you dolls.
One of the toughest times during this pandemic has been surviving as a Black queer person – and we can attest to this no matter where we are in the world. Over the past few months, the community has showed up for each other, whether through Instagram Lives, Zoom hangouts or any other form of virtual hangout. We’ve lost many people due to violence, Covid-19, transphobia and homophobia entangled in racism and other structural forms of oppression, but the best way to move on is if we show up for each other.
We’re grateful for people just as Angel-Ho who can use her platform and artistry to show up for the community and put her body on the frontline to make more voices heard.
All photos by Baz Bailey.