Breaking the mould: Angel-Ho talks self-expression, mental health & leaving a legacy

"Every time I make something people get a sense of themselves that makes them feel uncomfortable or makes them feel closer to that idea of connecting to unresolved parts of themselves."

Breaking the mould: Angel-Ho talks self-expression, mental health & leaving a legacy

"Every time I make something people get a sense of themselves that makes them feel uncomfortable or makes them feel closer to that idea of connecting to unresolved parts of themselves."

For Cape Town-based musician and creative director Angel-Ho, music and visual has always been a form of self-expression; a means of confronting subjects that force the audience to question their own beliefs, or as they put it "make them feel closer to that idea of connecting to unresolved parts of themselves."

In the case of Angel's music, these topics include challenging narratives surrounding gender, sexuality, queerness, as well as advocating self-expression and self-affirmation; subjects that have formed the basis of releases for their own NON imprint — a platform created to promote the works of African artists and the diaspora — and for Hyperdub, the home of their acclaimed LP 'Death Becomes Her'. 

Their latest album, 'A Time To Die', sees them partner with Mexican label N.A.A.F.I, with whom they've had a close relationship with since connecting at Red Bull Music Academy, New York. As well as providing commentary on important, personal subjects, the 10 experimental tracks also showcase Angel's production talents and her singular, boundary-pushing take on pop music.

Accompanying the music release is a personal documentary, directed by Allison Swank and starring Angel and their mother Valerie, that follows Angel's journey of being diagnosed with Schizophrenia, in a bid to lift the stigma of mental illness and connect with others who have experienced similar situations. 

Following the release of the album and the documentary drop, which you can watch below in the interview, we spoke to Angel about using music as a vehicle for self-expression, the creative process behind the album and the legacy they hope to leave behind...

As we begin to ease out of lockdown across the world, reflecting on the last few years, how have they been for you, both personally and professionally?

It's been rough; to nearly being homeless to having mental meltdowns with schizophrenia. I have found peace in the fact that the more people that get vaccinated the more people can live free.

You’re a multifaceted creator with fingers in many different pies. What does music and visual offer you as a vehicle for self-expression that other mediums don’t? 

I think every medium is key for self-expression but music and visual is what I do best.

Your work is deeply personal and speaks to your own experiences of subjects like gender, sexuality, power and self-expression. What do you hope that listeners take away from your music?  

I hope they find a renewed strength within themselves and the will to carry on through their troubles.

Your new album ‘A Time To Die’ came out at the beginning of September, how was the creative process for you?

I would splice and seperate stems of all songs that I like, reconstruct everything in to a new song then apply my own instruments and morph the song. It's a long process of cat and mouse.

It’s your first time working with NAAFI, how did that relationship come about and why did you feel they were the right fit for this release?

Our relationship started during the days I started NON, a music platform promoting the works of African people and of the diaspora. We did Red Bull Music Academy New York together and since then I have always admired their work.

Like some of your previous work, the LP explores themes like queer love, community as an agent for change and gender norms. As an artist why do you think it is important to confront and challenge these kinds of issues through music?

Because it's never enough when it comes from representation. I'm a bit of a freak, so every time I make something people get a sense of themselves that makes them feel uncomfortable or makes them feel closer to that idea of connecting to unresolved parts of themselves. My work is art, to not be mistaken, my critique of pop is a reflective expression, I see myself in pop.

It’s also accompanied by a documentary, can you tell us a bit more about the concept and how it relates to the album?

Its about my journey getting schizophrenia and lifting the stigma because everyday people live their lives with stress and anxiety with the mental illness. I need to share my story so I can help others and maybe see and meet people on the internet similar to me... To break the mould and extinguish the flame of stigma. I am a mere example of that.

In your home of Cape Town you’re part of a community who are using music and art as a way of challenging gender and sexuality norms. Can you introduce us to some of the key figures who, like yourself, are working hard to change the narrative? 

Cheshire V is the icon of the balls and Drag Mother is giving the global underground culture/home in South Africa.

As a non-confirming trans person in South Africa, how was it to find your voice and space as an artist in the beginning? How has that evolved since you first started releasing music?

It was quite simple, I put on a wig and went out in public.

What are your hopes for future generations of LGBTQIA+ artists in South Africa? What legacy would you like to leave them?

I would like to encourage them to go, against the grain as tough as that may be... And to never forget that you're not alone in this fight for equality, for them to lead by example and cherish the time we have together.

What can we expect from Angel-Ho in the future? Do you have any other projects on the horizon?

A new music video and a tour in 2022 (Yah Bless).

Follow Angel-Ho. Buy 'A Time To Die'.

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