Singer-songwriter Joya Mooi discusses her double album, biggest influences and 2023 manifestations.
A voice for the new and next generation, Joya Mooi’s solidified a chameleonic sound that’s hard to pin down. Growing up in a musical family, on a healthy diet of jazz, she would later discover genres like R&B and electronica, which inform the music that she makes today. Raised in Holland in a bi-cultural home, to a South African father and Dutch mother, identity and belonging have become two cornerstones of Joya’s songwriting. Backed by a myriad of genres, the themes are thought-provoking and exude a sophistication many artists fail to achieve.
‘What’s Around The Corner‘, Joya’s elegant new double album is a blissful display of contemporary R&B fuelled by potent political matters. Released via Nine And A Half records, the project oozes with thoughtful reference points, as the vocalist elasticises her spiritual cadences. Production from Sim Fane, SIROJ and Blazehoven accommodates Joya’s dreamy voice, leaving room for her to lay bare her innermost feelings.
Split into two sides, disk one possesses a contemplative exterior, filled with roots of escapism. From the ethereal opening track “What Dreams I’ve Heard”, to the floaty “Most Frail”, the listener is lured into Joya’s questions, which are left unanswered. Disk two seeks resolution. Beginning in blissful fashion, “No Beginning” entertains mystical string scores and the singer’s dulcet vocals. The middle section peaks with sounds inspired by various dance and hip-hop-focused genres, before closing out with beautifully soulful tones.
We spoke with Joya about her double album, biggest influences and 2023 manifestations. Dive in!
The second half of your double album ‘What’s Around The Corner’ comes out very soon. You must be excited to share it with the world. What themes are explored on this side?
On ‘What’s Around the Corner’ I’m exploring what change can mean, how it acts and how we can manipulate it. In the process of writing the album I was trying to understand, digest and reflect on identity, spirituality and social justice – I wanted many things to make more sense. With Side B I’m hoping to bring some resolution and end certain cycles. I also feel like this part is sonically more experimental, and more emotional – with strings and heavy drums. And an ending which I’m very proud of.
Why did you want to split the album into two sides and release them at different times? How does this one compare to the last?
In the last phase of recording, when writing ‘No Beginning’, the idea of releasing two sides of the album crossed my mind. Because that track is really about craving a new beginning but already having a whole lot of baggage. So, for this project, it felt best to present two sides of my journey separately. But I do feel like the story collides together with the first and last track, both theoretically and sonically.
You’ve said that the project is fuelled by a desire to “contribute to a more just future”. Can you explain more about what this means and what sparked this passage of thought?
With this album, my intention was to write more bluntly about my views on life and social matters. I feel like I have always expressed myself honestly about how I feel and view the world because I write about what I care about; identity, heritage, trauma and spirituality. But the starting point of writing for this project was just pure frustration, I felt really stuck as a person, and disconnected from myself and my surroundings. How can we keep having the same issues in society? With inequality and racism, at times I feel a bit alienated from people who don’t have the exact view of the world as I do. But that’s maybe also part of the problem, that we all mostly feel like we’re strangers to one another once we disagree.
Outside of music, what inspired you throughout the process of making this double album?
I draw inspiration from many things, and I can absorb the most when I’m ‘discovering’ things on a whim. I was inspired by Tina Campt’s book A Black Gaze: Artists Changing How We See, the podcast ‘The Institute of Black Imagination’, sculptors by David Annesley and the film installation ‘They Call it Idlewild’ by Helen Cammock. The ‘Social Cycle Theory’ by Vilfredo Pareto, was quite essential for this album too. He argued that historical events and the different stages of society generally go through recurring cycles. That really resonated with me while creating the outline for the album.
With several albums and singles released since 2013, how have you developed as an artist? And how has your music changed as a result?
I think I’m greatly shaped by intuition and the work of many great musicians. When I started out I was just a music geek, always creating poems and writing down thoughts. First really honouring my roots in jazz, but after a while, I felt more free making electronically produced music. On this album instruments and electronic production intertwine, musically catering for the themes I’m talking about. So I’m combining everything I’ve gathered over the years.
You’re based in Amsterdam. For those who haven’t been, or are planning to go soon, could you recommend one place to eat, another to have a drink and somewhere to let loose and dance in?
Surinamese roti with tempe at Lalla Rookh, sushi at Izakaya Tanuki or getting a sabich pita at Laffa for lunch. Black-owned cocktail place Labyrint is my all-time favourite and if I’m not already too turned up/down I enjoy dancing at Radio Radio to end a perfect night out.
Part of your heritage is in South Africa – a country currently having a real moment musically. Are you a fan of ama piano and the other club genres birthing there? What do you think is facilitating such creativity in South Africa?
I think music from SA has so much heart and soul, we’ve known this already. But it’s really cool to see a lot of different music scenes thriving, and that Amapiano is taking over the world. It would be even more dope to see more Ama piano producers from day one from SA, getting more recognition and coins globally as well.
What do you think is facilitating such creativity in South Africa?
SA is so inspiring – I think our humour as a nation and historic events have truly influenced the way we create authentically. SA is very diverse, with amazing music scenes, great fashion designers, writers, thinkers and organisers.
Do you believe in manifestation? If so, what are you manifesting for 2023?
I definitely manifested rest, good health, good vibes and being present whilst having ambitious intentions. I intend to take more breaks this year because I think we all went into overdrive in 2022. And I can’t wait to produce more of my own music.
What’s next in the immediate future of Joya Mooi?
Touring, both in SA and the Netherlands with the new album. I’m releasing new visuals soon and working on a special series of performances with a light design artist… 2023 I’m going to be free in my art, in life and to hopefully keep growing.