“I’m like Snow White: who turns 21 and the seven dwarves become my strippers,” Moonchild Sanelly giggles over a Zoom call. It’s quite the line, but there’s a method to the madness: “[I’ve got] an innocent edge. It’s edgy, but it’s packaged so innocently. Like, “Oh my god, she’s so cute: Wait, what the fuck did she just say?!’”
Raised in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa before relocating to the nation’s largest city of Johannesburg, the 34-year-old singer/musician/dancer has spent the last 15 years finessing her self-coined “future ghetto punk” style. Finally, with the advent of this month’s second LP “Phases’, it feels as though Moonchild is on the cusp of the global breakthrough she’s been waiting for, already counting Beyoncé and Damon Albarn among her fans.
A Disney princess flanked by an array of pole-dancing pals may seem like a strange analogy, but in the world of Moonchild Sanelly, it sort of makes sense. However, while her story may have something of the fairytale to it, this is a far more liberated journey than your run-of-the-mill princess fable.
Coming from a self-professed line of “bad bitches”, Sanelly (born Sanelisiwe Twisha) says she’s always been taught to stand on her own two feet, say whatever the fuck she wants, and own both her body and mind. It’s a stance that, she explains, was directly passed down to her from her late mother, who told her that it’s OK to be different and to embrace her uniqueness. “When they call you a black sheep, it’s because you’re a genius. It takes a black sheep to change the world,” she states.
This self-confidence and belief bleeds into her music wholeheartedly, and her discography is rife with empowerment anthems that find her speaking her mind and truth. Having started out in poetry spaces, Moonchild says that it was strange to watch other women depicting themselves as weak, a stark contrast to the “hustlers” she was raised by. Armed with a desire to show the power of women, she set herself a goal to write a song to let the world know that she’s “perfect” just how she is. Her resulting 2019 mini-album “N√ºdes’ did just that, preaching body and sex positivity; “Phases’, meanwhile, sees her again spreading her message of female sexual empowerment.
On “Strip Club’, Sanelly flips the traditional male-centric club narrative, while “Cute’ is described by the singer herself as being about “bad boss bitches with big dick energy who look fly while they’re running their shit.” The album as a whole was her attempt to “shout out for fucking winning” instead of “just celebrating women who are successful in society’s eyes.” “Own your narrative!” she exclaims. “Shout out for owning your hustle and shout out for knowing what your position is and choosing it and voicing it. And if you can’t [do that], just play my song!”
As for the lessons to be learnt from “Phases’, Moonchild is adamant that our whole relationship with sex needs to change. “When you open your legs, you better motherfuckin’ open your mouth,” she urges. “Sex is not a service. You are a participant. It’s not for baby-making.
“I call myself “The President for the Female Orgasm’ because a lot of people don’t know what the fuck the word orgasm means,” she continues. “You ask what an orgasm is to a 40-year-old, and they say, “When he gets off me’. What the fuck?! That’s why I know there’s always room for my narrative because there’s still a lot of people that shy away from what they engage in and where they come from.”
It’s refreshing to hear someone speaking so freely, but Moonchild believes that conversations like this should be the norm. “When the world asks me about courage and shit like that, for me, I don’t understand what they mean because I’m just myself,” she states. “It’s not an effort! It’s the world that makes you feel like, “Oh shit, it’s actually courageous to be myself:’”
But while Sanelly’s been hailed for her sex positivity and lack of filter, it hasn’t come without its backlash. The replies to her vivacious social media posts often include vile abuse from men, but the singer says it’s not something that she’ll ever let get her down. “Let me tell you something, roasting is my fucking game!” she beams, describing how she makes sure she replies to every shitty comment with a put-down in return. One time, she went a step further, “doing her research” and finding a troll’s school to let them know what they were saying, eventually receiving an apology from the school in question.
“I move intentionally, so I’m not affected by a lot of things,” she explains. “A lot of people don’t really know me. They know what I serve, but they don’t really know me. I am in control of what I feed you, so you can only mock me for what I’ve given you, but it still doesn’t touch me because you don’t know me.
Having the foresight to realise that, while people may mock her now, they’ll be wanting to copy her later, she’s even put a patent on her iconic blue hair style so that no one can imitate her after she gets her imminent world-wide breakthrough. “Understand, honey, I don’t do free fame,” she laughs. “I’ve been hustling for too long!”
Primed to enter the big leagues - “I’m ready for my GRAMMY!” - “Phases’ looks set to open Moonchild Sanelly up to even more people. Sonically exploring the realms of grime, pop, house, R&B, and the South African dance music styles of amapiano and gqom, Sanelly describes the album as her diary, allowing herself to express her “different phases” as well as her vulnerability. That vulnerability comes with a condition though: “Always bear in mind that it never ends in sadness, it always ends in inspiration”.
“Phases’ was partly inspired by a toxic relationship she was in, and one that she promised she’d end when the work on her record finished. She recalls sending a voice call to her manager (“I was lit, by the way, so I wasn’t consciously saying this”), explaining over the phone that “I’m writing this album and I need to finish my story. When my album is done, [the relationship will] be done.
The record also boasts collaborations with Sad Night Dynamite, Trillary Banks, Ghetts and more, and Moonchild is already raring to add to her musical little black book for her next LP, naming Bree Runway and Doja Cat as top of her list for hopeful collaborations that would “motherfuckin’ slap”.
Above all though, she’s just excited to see what the future holds next. “I know that every time I have the opportunity to go into the studio, that song’s going to change my life,” she smiles. “It’s been 14 or 15 years now since I started making proper money, doing the same thing and having that same mentality. In my head, my dreams have never had an expiry date, because every time I’ve had the opportunity to get closer to them, I’ve always capitalised on it.
“I’m ready for world domination!” she laughs. “I want to get the world to sing in my language. I want to fuck shit up. I want all the awards. I want everything!”
“Phases’ is out 10th June via Transgressive.
As featured in the June 2022 issue of DIY, out now.