Through her latest release, Blossom Carefully, Joya Mooi pushes herself creatively into avenues she hasn’t previously explored. Though other releases were focused on how the world around her was related to her self, this new EP expands the boundaries of self-expression and creativity even more. The Amsterdam-based singer speaks to us about what it feels like to write music using more of her imagination, expressing a sense of freedom and urgency through her lyrics, and how spirituality, grief, and intimacy intersect.
Hey Joya, could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background before we get started?
My name is Joya Mooi, I live in Amsterdam and my family is from the Netherlands and South Africa. I grew up listening to jazz, later fell in love with electronic music and indie R&B, and started to make music myself.
How did you first become interested in playing music and creating music?
Music was a very dominant thing in my house growing up, with Oscar Peterson being heavily on rotation. My father plays the trumpet, my mother sang, and they really loved the idea of all of their kids playing music. So I started playing the saxophone, but by then, I already knew I wanted to sing as well. I was too shy to ask for vocal lessons, but from then I started writing lyrics and melodies in my room.
You first trained in a conservatory. How do you feel that your more formal, classical training intersects with your love of and production of R&B and hip-hop? Do you feel like there is a connection between the two?
I mean, it’s all music really. And so much of what is created now has a direct connection to jazz. It took me a while to get away from the theoretical approach that I was taught in school. And I'm glad now that I can pick and choose from any musical genre that suits my narrative.
“I had to search and create my sense of belonging. But in music I've always found solace. It was never hard to tell my story or share my experiences because they're all mine.”
You were raised in Holland in a bicultural home/family: your father is South African and your mother is Dutch. How do you feel that your relationship to your transnational identity has informed your songwriting?
For a long time, my transnational heritage caused me to feel lost. I felt I was stuck in between two worlds, and I had to search and create my sense of belonging. But in music I've always found solace. It was never hard to tell my story or share my experiences because they're all mine. That reclaiming was quintessential for opening up about my search for identity on my latest EP and my album The Ease of Others.
What artists (current or throughout the years, musical or otherwise) have inspired your musical journey?
I really gravitated to interesting songwriting, so that's why I always loved Etta James and Georgia Anne Muldrow. And I really like listening to SZA, Beach House, Nana Adjoa, Boogie and Spelling.
A few weeks ago, you released the EP Blossom Carefully. What does the phrase to blossom carefully mean for you?
It's about enduring, seeking hope, setting yourself apart from disenchantments in life. It's about the never-ending love for my lineage and everything I received from them. It's about growing on your terms and much more.
What story are you trying to tell through the six tracks in the EP? Does the EP have an overarching theme or narrative?
On this EP, I wanted to imagine something that I haven’t experienced already – using my imagination. Feeling free. I mostly write about the world and myself and how they relate to one another, but now I just needed more from my creativity. More and more, I feel the urgency to express my feelings and my connection to freedom, escapism and spirituality.
Each of the tracks on the EP sounds like it has been generated from a very personal place. As an artist and performer, how does it feel to put something as intimate as this record into the world for people to listen to?
All my projects are quite personally themed – I like to be honest and transparent in my thoughts. Not only to connect to others but also to stay connected to myself as well. When I'm in the studio or creating at home, I hardly think about performing those songs. Sometimes on stage it gets difficult, especially when my close ones are there. Then I'm very aware that I'm vulnerable, but often it only makes me feel more powerful: expressing my dark thoughts, coping with grief and trials.
Most of the songs on the record have a mellow and quite thoughtful beat and, in the cases of Hours Left and Hold You Tight, for example, often contrasting with the intensity and emotionality of the lyrics. Was this intentional?
Most of the time I don't know where a song is taking me, but I love creating stories that need different musical approaches. So for most of the song, I pay attention to the balancing of emotions within music and lyrics. That's why I like working with producers like Blazehoven, Sim Fane and SIROJ – they all want to experiment and see where the music takes us.
In the WPGM commentary for your EP, you said that the track More Than Ever is inspired by Afrofuturism. Could you tell us more about how the cultural movement inspired the way you wrote the song? How do you think the influences of ‘technoculture’ can be seen through the combination of your more organic songwriting with your technologically generated beats and music?
Besides it being a cultural movement, for me Afrofuturism is just being aware of yourself and your space in this world and beyond. On More Than Ever specifically I express how I connect the day-to-day to exploring the bigger picture, and where that intersects with spiritualism and grief. And although my music is produced electronically, everyone who worked on this EP has a connection to their spirituality.
Creating in general is very intuitive. And what I've learned is that you can learn how to read the signs in life if you're open to it. So that's what I try to do in my songwriting as well. 
You mentioned that some of the songs were recorded and produced in your house. Did that make you feel like you had an even closer relationship to the end result?
It just feels nice that I was able to create from the comfort of my own house, being surrounded by my paintings and personal items. But I feel very close to all of my music because it's hardly ever done in a short amount of time. I mostly spend hours working on it, listening to mixes over the course of months, so once it's out, I mainly feel relieved that it all worked out (laughs).
How are you planning on promoting your album during the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic?
The last couple of months I've played some socially distanced concerts, which was very nice. So we're still making plans to do smaller shows and creating visuals so that people can connect to the music. But for me, just listening to music through my headphones is already a blessing, so I'm hoping people will that just that.
After the release of the EP, since you can’t tour, do you have any goals or upcoming projects for the future?
I would like to stay healthy, create more music, get more rest and stay hopeful.
Joya Mooi Metalmagazine 2.jpg