On yellow, youth and giving a damn! A moment with musician Zoe Modiga

Image by Ben Moyo

On stage she’s ablaze and in person, she radiates peace. The one thing that remains consistent between her public and offstage persona is the calming energy you feel through her music and presence.


Zoe Modiga, born Palesa Nomthandazo Phumelele Modiga, grew up in the KwaZulu-Natal before moving to Gauteng to study at The National School of Arts in pursuit of her love for music. The singer-songwriter and instrumentalist has made a name for herself in the jazz industry over the past few years, bringing a solid fanbase to witness her performances at prestigious festivals such as the Cape Town International Jazz Fest, Aardklop Festival, Artscape Youth Jazz Festival and the University of Cape Town Jazz Festival.

Modiga scooped two awards at the 24th Annual South African Music Awards for her latest musical offering, Yellow: The Novel. I had a chat with the jazz star ahead of her performance at Basha Uhuru 2018.

What important conversations do you think the youth should we be having?

Conversations about mental illness and the importance of identity.

What’s your relationship with the colour yellow?

Yellow is my favourite colour and for me, I feel that it symbolises happiness, caution, boldness and all the positive characteristics I want to embody.

Image by Ben Moyo

Talk us through the creative process of Yellow: The Novel?

The album felt natural to me and the ideas just poured. They were formed at a time where I was meditative and trying to figure this life thing out again. It was a transition and a very special documentation of the transition because I realised the importance of being able to go back to a physical thing like a song that takes you back to the emotions you felt at that time, is just comforting to me.


In an interview with Mail & Guardian, you once said, “I don’t want to be remembered as a jazz musician. I just want to be remembered as a person that was an entertainer and that gave a damn about a lot of things.” What are these things that you give a damn about ?

As a person, there are several things that one holds on to, or reserves a special place for; whether it be in our hearts or lives. First and foremost, I care dearly for the people in my life, and caring about people genuinely comes natural to me. I care about lessons (there’s beauty in learning), and experiences. I care about the elderly in society, I care about the less fortunate. I haven’t grown callous to those kinds of things.

Image by Ben Moyo


It’s Youth Month. What does that mean to you?

It’s a reminder that people like me matter. Through music, I hope to remind my people of just that, they truly matter.


You were on the first season of The Voice South Africa in 2016. How has the show helped your career and your journey in the South African music industry?

While I was on the show, I practised versatility which was fun to do because I got to experiment with different genres and sort of be a different personality or performer. I pretty much went back to the true essence of who I was musically and found myself yearning to express myself a lot more after singing other people’s songs on such a big platform.


What does being a part of Basha Uhuru mean to you and what are you most looking forward to?

It is a great ball of honour being a part of a festival that commemorates a youth that shed blood to allow me the expressive life I live. The youth should be ready for us to share in the magic we create as audience and performer.


This article was originally published on Basha Uhuru.