A year since it’s release, Zoë Modiga talks about her debut album and how love inspired it

Zoë Modiga is obsessed with the colour yellow.

“Yellow is my favourite colour,” says the 24-year-old Johannesburg-based jazz musician. “When I was a kid, I always thought it was weird that everyone’s favourite colour was something like pink and mine was yellow. But after a while that started becoming the theme of my life: the idea that maybe ‘being weird’ isn’t such a bad thing at all.”

Modiga is unsurprisingly, dressed in a yellow dress and sports a short, blonde-tinged cut and cuts an exhausted figure. Fresh from a performance with friend and soul artist, Langa Mavuso, she reclines into a black leather couch and recalls just how far she’s come as an artist in the last twelve months.


Zoë Modiga

In 2017, Modiga had something of a breakout year. She released her critically acclaimed debut ‘Yellow, The Novel’ double disc that blends folk, gospel, jazz and a bit of blues. It was a daring project, that broached themes such as heartbreak and spirituality. Featuring 23 tracks, the album definitely feels like a novel with the interludes Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer breaking the album into four parts. You can read whatever meaning you want into that, the first and most obvious being that the seasons moving from autumn to summer represent a full year in Modiga’s life. That makes sense given that ‘Yellow, The Novel’ is a 23 track album released when Modiga was 23-years-old.

“That was deliberate,” she says. “I wanted to introduce myself to the world as I’d like to be seen and give people a view of where I was in life at the time,” she says.

She goes on to mention that the album’s animating force is love and happiness or rather, daring to find joy in a world that constantly begs you to feel otherwise.


Zoë Modiga

“As an independent artist, you get the freedom of doing whatever you want. ‘Yellow, The Novel’ was meant to be a passion project about heartbreak, love and knowing you mean something in the world. It’s quite an expansive body of work. It doesn’t follow the conventional three-minute track format of most songs.”

But love always carries the album through.

‘Abounding Within’, the second track on the album, is an upbeat number that kicks off with the lyrics “I know that there’s a place deep inside of all us, a place that’s made of love where peace and truth abound”. ‘Would They’, with it’s looping guitar, sees Modiga declaring “I love different kinds of people. [But] would they get along well?” In Modiga’s ‘Yellow, The Novel’, each one of us exists in a universe where we’re a constellation of planets circling a sun made of love.

But sometimes, love is a difficult thing. On, ‘And So It Goes’ a soundscape of light drum work and soothing chords sees Modiga singing about “faces aching with smiles that can’t seem to keep up with themselves”. She later sings “I’m only human in this twisted, turning thing called life.” But ultimately, there is redemption. ‘Love (Yahweh)’ and ‘The Healer’ see her singing about the redemptive nature of love. And not in a corny, way either.

“There’s nothing more beautiful than knowing something bigger than you exists somewhere out there in the universe,” she says of ‘Love’ and ‘The Healer’. “The songs were about paying homage to a higher power and I don’t necessarily mean that in a religious way. For me, it means realizing that I may be skin and bones but there’s something vast and unspeakable that governs my life. I don’t ever want to lose sight of that.”

There’s nothing more beautiful than knowing something bigger than you exists somewhere out there in the universe -Zoë Modiga

A year since the release of her debut, Modiga is planning to release videos to accompany her debut album. And if we know anything about Modiga, the visuals will be full of colour and love.

Zoë Modiga is one of 80 artists performing at Red Bull Music Festival Johannesburg from 3 – 8 April. Get your tickets here.

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