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Angel‑Ho: Sex, pop and fairy tales

South African Angel-Ho joins the UK’s Hyperdub label for her debut album of post-modern aphrodisiac pop music.

Cover © Jody Brand

As an already established DJ and producer, Angel-Ho began to tease the internet towards the end of 2018, revealing in succession three brilliant and surgically precise instrumentals. From there, she has elevated her music to a new level, bringing out her pop diva outfit, to release her debut album Death Becomes Her. She enters the fold of the rigorously curated Hyperdub camp, whilst also at the same time running her own label, NON Worldwide.

“I’ve been collaborating and talking with Hyperdub for a while. My latest music developments led me to go with a bigger label. I didn’t release the album on NON Worldwide because my label is focused on promoting artists other than myself, and I’m not dealing with that anymore,” she explained to us on the phone, with a calm and androgynous tone. In the company of Burial, Ikonika and Jessy Lanza, Hyperdub is certainly a fitting home to allow such incisive and delightedly disturbing pop music to reach a large and receptive audience.

A pop diva of the future

What makes this album unique is that Angel-Ho sings and she does it well. Her voice, both sensual and domineering, defies the acid electro arrangements, with a musical avant-garde theatre, like a rendering of a hardcore version of the blue diva in the cult scene in The Fifth Element. “Singing was a necessity for me, she says. I felt like I needed to express so many things. It is in my DNA to express myself in my music.”

The vocal presence was necessary to tell stories focused on the emancipation of her new transsexual identity, through metaphorical fantasies and acid poetry. Without storing her former body away in the cupboard, she fully embraces her new persona which forms a part of the central theme in her lyrics – in a dreamlike way: “I write about love, breakups, being a pop diva, and the fantasy of obtaining the ultimate sense of luxury for my own self-love. It’s about a personal desire to exist in the world. I wanted to express everything about myself, what I’m seeing in my journey and everything I’m experiencing currently. There’s also a type of sexuality that comes out when I perform my music. I always express sexuality from the way I dress or carry myself. Queer love and romance are a big part of my identity, and the album expresses this, in a fantasy.”

Drawing inspiration from badass women like Lady Gaga or Missy Elliott, she manages to avoid the easy neo-pop labelling and tells us specifically the dimension she wants to share with her album: “I would define my sound as ‘a gigantic pop musical, both cinematic and narrative’. My songwriting skills have been pushed to the forefront of this record.” 

An unlimited creativity

“In South Africa, it is not necessarily difficult anymore to release music if you’re Black. There are many opportunities for you to create and choose your own destiny, especially when it comes to art and music. South Africa is rich in music and art. It is a country that has a lot on offer when it comes to creating the tastes and the standards of tomorrow’s global music.”

In a country where ideas proliferate and feed an electronic scene in exponential recognition, Angel-Ho freed her imagination and surrounded herself with vibrant MCs such as the Asian-American K-Rizz, co-author of “Like a Girl”, the album’s first single-teaser – a rough take on Kwaito. For the vocals, she also collaborated within the local scene, and invited two of her Cape Town compatriots. K-$ sings on the huge hip-hop track “Like that” and Qweezy strengthens the horror movie tone of “Good Friday Daddy”, on one of the most disturbing songs on the record.

Still at the helm on hip-hop productions with tracks such as “Business”, she also teams up to perform with other experimental diasporic producers: “I kind of chose the collaborators based on the music I was listening to at that time. I really wanted to create music that was forward-thinking and sounding, and something that was timeless to me as a musician on my debut album. It was because of my affinity with R’n’B that I gravitated towards Asmara Maroof. I wanted to create a pop record, so it was great to work with her in that regard, as well as with Baby Caramel who is more focused on ’70s pop. Concerning my experimental music side, I really appreciated the help of Nunu, a French producer who tailored ambient soundscapes for me so I could tell a fairytale.” 

© Jody Brand

Angel-Ho now gravitates at the center of a strong character-made ecosystem. In an electrical and at times oppressive world, we hear the wild side of South African electronic music (“Drama”), an epic and orchestral lullaby (“Cupido”), a R’n’B-laced breath of air (“Baby Tee”) and other great epic moments (“Muse to you”), that could lead us to make a too easy comparison to other LGBTQ artists and Angel-Ho recognises that it’s not a coincidence: “Anohni is amazing, and I love Sophie so much, she really is a big inspiration. The LGBTQ community is the freest group of people in the world. We do not discriminate and we love each other. We are boundless. By ourselves, we decide our own destiny, we do not think within limits.”

Towards an epic tour?

We can easily visualise that, on stage, this colourful album will likely turn itself into a work of living art, full of costume changes and stageplays. The South African artist already visualises that future: “The stage version of Angel-Ho is energetic, very much so in fact. It’s very theatrical, I’m like a cosmic goddess, a space queen. My persona and my showmanship is really rooted in my love for musical theatre, drama, performing and creating great visual representations. My show is glamorous, I do like six intervals for changes and I sing released and unreleased music.”

In other words, Angel-Ho says that she will not come on stage to waste time, and that provoking sensations is her main goal. Before hanging up, she leaves a message for her fans: “I just want my fans to know that I really appreciate everything they do, all the support and love that I receive. It is going be a wild journey to perform to them, and  it seems to me that they’re already really excited about me revealing myself as a performer.”

Death becomes her, released on March 1st 2019 via Hyperdub. Order it on Bandcamp.

Read next: Bonaventure’s DIY electronic music blending against all forms of oppression