Moonchild Sanelly: “you can’t box me, or limit me”She found her artistic ambition in a unique fusion of music, dance, fashion and kooky sexuality. She’s also 100 per cent real
She arrives at a Johannesburg restaurant and instantly owns it. Her multi-coloured catsuit has heads snapping round, as does her blazing blue hair. But it’s the non-stop conversational bars she drops and her vital presence that has everyone asking, “Who is that?” Who it is, is Moonchild Sanelly, singer, dancer, designer, poet, and one-off African electro phenomenon, and she’s about to take us on a ricochet journey through sex, music and making things happen.
THE RED BULLETIN: What do you call your style?
MOONCHILD SANELLY: Future ghetto funk. It’s a combination of music, fashion and dance.
How do you combine those three things?
When I write a song, I see an animated version of it in my mind. Like a cartoon character who’s always lazy and doesn’t want to have sex. Then I shoot him with laser beams. I’m very powerful as a cartoon character, always liberating women. It’s all about sex, cartoons and liberation. Not a raunchy type of sexy, it’s a playful sexy.
Do you produce your own tracks?
No. I produce notes. I’ll get someone who hears me properly to do that, like Tshepang Ramoba of [South African rock band] Blk Jks.
How did you guys start working together?
We met at an open mic night, when I’d just moved to Johannesburg from Durban.
What made you decide to move?
I was in my final year at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, studying business and fashion. I was designing, singing, doing poetry and working on tracks. Then I read this book, The Artist’s Way [a self-help book about creativity by American author Julia Cameron]. That book made me realise that I wanted more. I needed to make my ideas happen. I was in a relationship that was, like, ideas galore, but not action galore. By the time I’d finished that book, I’d decided I wasn’t going to take it. I left and came to Johannesburg.
How did you find the Johannesburg scene?
The people in Johannesburg are territorial. I was new in the city, but not new on stage. I’ve had to lie so many times to get onto a stage. If they say it’s rappers only, I’ll say, “I’m a rapper,” and just change the song into raps.
How do you communicate ideas to a producer?
I visualise the dance moves. I say, “Make it make me do this!” I don’t know any other way. I didn’t study music. I say, “I want to do this on the chorus, when I dance.”
How do audiences outside South Africa react to your shows?
At Midem, in France, I stood on the table in this packed venue, in my panties, and said, “Just because I’m from South Africa, doesn’t mean I’m going to talk about the mountains, the valleys and the animals. We’re overpopulated and we have a lot of HIV because we have a lot of sex! Now I’m going to tell you about our sex.” After that they partied.
Was your sexy style a conscious decision?
Yes, but I’m about responsible sex. I post on Instagram when I do my HIV test. So you don’t confuse my message and my aesthetic with promiscuity and irresponsible behaviour. But it’s not a stage persona. This is my personality. I’m very sexual. Period. And the audience vibes with it. At first they’re shocked. Sometimes I’ll start with Kiss And Pop, a very sexual song with a sexy dance. You either get out, or you join in. No in between.
What’s next for you?
I refuse to be one of those people who are making pioneering sounds, but who only make it overseas. I want to make it in South Africa and overseas. I refuse to choose one. I’m shooting a video with New Zealand dance-pop group Weird Together in Tokyo. It’s also Xhonglish [Sanelly’s English/Xhosa hybrid language].
Xhosa and English in Japan?
I’m showing my different sides. The writing background, the jazz background, Xhosa and English overseas… You can’t box me, or limit me. I’m very diverse. I can do anything. I just choose what I want to do.