Zoë Modiga stole the hearts (and ears) of the general public in 2016 when she took part in the first season of The Voice SA. She has since performed at celebrated festivals like the Aardklop National Arts Festival, Artscape Youth Jazz Festival, University of Cape Town Jazz Festival, Joy of Jazz and the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, and shared the stage with the likes of Lira, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Louis Moholo, Gloria Bosman, Mark Fransman, Sibusiso Dlamini, Tshepo Tsotetsi and many more.
As one of the country’s most respected young jazz voices, Modiga is a sought-after collaborator, appearing on tracks by popular artists like The Kiffness, Frank Paco Art Ensemble, Soul Sessionz Music, Kaapstad and the Jo Kunnuji Experiment. She also leant her smooth vocals to ‘Amazing Grace’ for the Oscar-nominated film, Noem My Skollie, scored by acclaimed pianist Kyle Shepherd.
This self-released album displays her ‘limitless’ vocal range with ‘velvety low notes, feathery top notes, a clean falsetto, impeccable runs and a quieter, childlike whisper’
Music was a natural path for Modiga to follow. ‘As a child, making music was my biggest aspiration,’ she says. ‘I wanted to reach and move people through music with every fibre of my being. My family’s eclectic and diverse taste in music influenced me a lot.
‘I went on to study music in order to pursue my dream of making music. I attended the National School of Arts in Johannesburg, where I studied classical piano, clarinet and vocals. I then went on to study jazz vocals at the South African College of Music at the University of Cape Town.’
When I think about yellow, I think about this constant pursuit of happiness and I wanted to associate my debut album with happiness
With strong foundations like this, it’s no surprise that her debut album, Yellow: The Novel (2017) garnered both public and critical acclaim. Described as ‘a happiness pill for tough political times’ and a ‘revelation’, this self-released album displays her ‘limitless’ vocal range with ‘velvety low notes, feathery top notes, a clean falsetto, impeccable runs and a quieter, childlike whisper.’
The album took two years of hard work to release, but it was worth it. Modiga was nominated for two SAMAs this year, for Best African Artist and Best Jazz Album – a major milestone in the career of any young artist. ‘There is something to be said about being seen by the people you wish to affect. It is truly rewarding to be nominated among people I look up to. It affirms to me that I am on the right path,’ she says.
Yellow, she says, is her favourite colour. ‘When I think about yellow, I think about this constant pursuit of happiness and I wanted to associate my debut album with happiness. It’s such an honour to even say my body of work is out, it’s been two years and counting.’
So, why ‘The Novel’? ‘I think the project is like a book – you have to sit down and read it,’ she says. ‘You don’t read a book in traffic, unless you’ve got major skills. Not that you can’t listen to it in traffic, but it’s like that introverted moment with yourself. The whole thing is centred around self-realisation and they are those kinds of songs.’
One thing is for sure: if you see her perform once, you’ll want to see her again and again.
Modiga joins the sparkling line-up at this year’s RMB Starlight Classics at Country Club Johannesburg.