Moonga K stands as an amalgamation of cultural influences. Born in Zambia and raised in Botswana, he’s currently residing in Johannesburg. Over the years, the soft-spoken crooner has diligently worked to create and solidify a spot for himself in the music industry. He first achieved this in Botswana, reaching a nationwide audience on the country’s biggest talent search My African Dream at the tender age of 13. Now in South Africa, he’s already worked with House music heavyweight Zakes Bantwini as well as Greg Carlin from alternative rock band, Zebra & Giraffe.
I spoke with Moonga about growing pains, staying grounded, his new EP and also his experience of viral social activism.
JHB is a mecca of sorts for Botswana’s artists. To make it there is a significant milestone many attempt, sometimes graze, but few seem to actually achieve. How’ve you found navigating the change in scenery and pace, and what keeps you focused?
I’ve been fortunate to have good people around me that believe in my vision and genuinely want to help me actualize my dreams. I moved here originally for university and at the time, I quit music, due to personal reasons so, being here, working at festivals and meeting creatives within the industry re-ignited my love for music. The number one thing I do is remind myself that I’m on my own unique journey, and I have to stay authentic to who I am and who I’d like to become no matter how long it takes. Sometimes I wallow in sadness because I’m not where I would like to be, but the hope of a great and long career keeps me incredibly focused.
You have a super close relationship with your mother. What are the top three values you’d say she’s instilled in you as you inch deeper into adulthood?
Yes, I love my mother very much. My three rules to live by would be: Always give love out, be confident in who you are and never give up. In my twenty-three years of being alive, I guess I’ve been through a fair amount of trauma and a lot of wonderful experiences and bringing these values to the forefront have allowed me to grow constantly. I still struggle to believe in myself but I’m taking steps to build my confidence and with that said, regardless of the situation you’re in – even if it’s dire, keep moving forward.
Most of your work explores love in its many forms and interpretations. Any lover will tell you love is, above all, a verb. What practices have you put in place to foster self-love and to what extent is your creative process a part of that?
I haven’t had the best luck with love. Most of it has been unrequited and anyone with a similar experience can tell you that that sucks but it allows me to work on myself more. There’s a poem on Def Poetry Jam about dating yourself, and I watched that when I was a kid and thought it was hilariously ridiculous but now that I’m older I resonate with it so deeply. I talk to myself; I meditate, I drink a lot of water and eat a more balanced diet now with a lot of avocados and fruits, which allow me to center my body and mind more. I had a mental breakdown two years ago and shaved off all my hair, and I’ve been all-natural since. It’s been so therapeutic to take care of my hair, using no chemicals or heat, and focusing on what it needs to blossom. That’s how I look at self-love, creatively as well. I just focus on feeling healthy first before doing anything, and not forcing songs to come out, but allowing moments to dictate the lyrics and melodies.
As someone constantly going through a public metamorphosis and catharsis of sorts, how do you soften the fear around change – big and small – in its numerous forms as they pertain to your artistic direction?
It’s terrifying. I’m still quite new to the industry, and I’m always learning about the do’s and don’ts. Navigating through this has been confusing but once I get the hang of it, I become better at handling certain situations. Any kind of change ebbs and flows, and my music in the last two years has been a wide exploration of genres which was hard to figure out, but I accepted that art isn’t one-dimensional. You can explore different worlds of music as long as those sounds portray your artistry.
Producers Flex the Ninja and Amo Beatz are currently on a roll and rapidly putting out content that further solidifies their place in conversations about great artists nurtured in Botswana. What was your experience working with them?
They’re such talented men! I heard about them a year before we met but we never formally spoke until January 2019, I met Flex and we were in the studio writing and recording a song called Time. that features my little sister, Mwanjé, and Amo. I finally met Amo last December and within four hours, him, Flex and I came up with fool’s gold. It was electric. We bonded as soon as we got into that room. Melodies came to me; Flex did his thing with his laptop and Amo joined in and added his flair. It was a back and forth thing with the three of us, not knowing where we were going but having so much fun on the ride. They brought such a fun energy out of me that I hadn’t really put out in a long while, and it sparked more ideas for the rest of the album. I truly thank them for that.
You and Sampa the Great share not only a strong bond, but similar come up stories as well, and a love for exploring niche ways of artistic expression. Can you tell us about your friendship and what you’ve learned, if anything, about managing one’s ascent, from witnessing hers?
We’ve known each other since we were kids so, we’re family. She’s my big sis and she’s been so supportive of me and my music since I started doing shows back in Bots. Watching Sampa’s trajectory has been so beautiful because she’s kept that determined and strong spirit, and it motivates me to stand in my beliefs because it’s evident that there will be people that believe in them, too. She is supportive of artists and black artists who don’t get the shine they deserve, and I believe in uplifting the voices of others, too. We hadn’t seen in each other in a long time until last year when she came down to Jo’burg to shoot her OMG music video. When I visited her on set, I was in awe of how many people were on her team, to bring her vision to life and not only that, they all had so much love for her as the powerful black woman she is. I was inspired. She then asked my crusty-looking self to be in the music video and who am I to say no to Sampa the Gotdamn Great? She’s an inspiration to a lot of young, black artists from Africa who want to make it big out there. Here’s to hoping I get to tour with her one day!
You ended one of your recent Instagram posts with “We are here to be human”. It’s precisely that humanity, I believe, that led to the strong reception for your personal Justice For Zinedine petition and it making the colossal impact it did. What was your takeaway from that – as a friend, activist and as an individual?
Creating the Justice for Zinedine petition was something I wanted to use to bring awareness to the overlooked abuse that women go through. I have always been an advocate for gender-based violence issues, both in academia and in public, and seeing what my best friend was going through and not having the power to do anything about it made me aware that the power of the internet is all we have to make something happen. We didn’t expect it to get the notoriety it received, but it got a massive wave of support from people not only in Botswana but abroad and that showed me the power of collective justice if people just listen to victims, believe them and support them so that we can eradicate this prevalent issue. Zinedine got legal representation and despite the internet trolls, the online support system outweighed that but that online focus faded fairly quickly, and I think that’s a major problem in the hashtag world we live in. Everyone moves on to the next [message], even though the last one hasn’t been resolved, so then rape cases continue to rise. We have to stay committed. This is an ongoing fight. 2019 saw horrific sexual assault cases, and men and women have to be keep fighting for justice for the victims. My entire life is dedicated to helping people whether it’s through music or fighting for them, and this was one of the opportunities I had to make sure I did my part as a human being.
How has adjusting to COVID circumstances been for you as a creative?
Fortunately, we finished the EP – An Ode to Growth, p.1 – before the lockdown took place so, I’ve been focused on the release plan and just writing more music indoors. It sucks that my band and I don’t get to do the shows we planned, and with Wi-Fi connectivity being an issue for most of us, doing online gigs doesn’t seem likely so that’s a bit of a bummer.
What can we expect this stage of your artistic metamorphosis to be an expression of?
I’m in a place in my life where I’d like to be more open and honest about my experiences, so this new music is going to be more personal. I have a lot of musical inspirations but the major artist on my radar right now is Prince, and I constantly find myself asking “what would Prince do?” when facing things like my style, performing, musicality … I’m going to be getting out of my comfort zone in this next phase and I’m so excited to be rid of all the anxiety that prevents me from being as confident as I should be.
All images were supplied by Moonga K’s team