A Daily Exclusive interview
Interview by Lesiba M
Words by Roo
Photography by Albertina Katlego Mmethi
It’s not everyday that you come across a gem of an artist that knowingly cultivates the ability to evoke deep human affections that had likely been hidden within one’s forcibly adopted ideology of how the topic of love is one that shouldn’t be championed or even confronted just through song.
This is why artists like Phiwo are so important in the game because her translucent-like species continue to inspire us into simply falling in love again and falling in love in distinctive ways that only cater to the listener’s inspired desire to. Our local music sound-world has mostly diverted our attention towards the loud & hype although, deep down , we all desperately needed an inhalation of some experience of feeling and devotion.
Phiwo’s songwriting skill, vocal performances and caring expressive intent with each song she gives is part of the RnB & Soulful wave of artists that are finally getting the (we think, secretly wished for), attention they deserve. It almost feels like, one way or another, our adoration for Phiwo’s music was going to happen. As a matter of fact, we dare you to press play on a record such as ‘No Mistakes’ off the Pretoria-based artists’ 2021 Letters debut EP and try to convince us we’re wrong…
After successfully convincing the revolutionary or alternative scene of like-minded music connoisseurs, especially thanks to the mentioned above Letters EP, it was Phiwo’s heavy features that really expanded + solidified her presence in the disruptive music industry we are all currently witnessing. Through each feature we’ve experienced from her such as ‘5 More Minutes’ off Tyson Sybatelli’s 2021 Dulcé project or her impeccable performance on Amis, WalterCanAutotune & Trigganasty’s ‘Lobola’ masterpiece of a song with Lwamii, Phiwo has proven a point that that mainstream can’t ignore her forever. Bludbunz’s ‘SMOKE’ feature (with Roho) proved it, that collaborative Nmbrs EP (with Adrienne Foo) started to prove it and yeah, ‘All4u’ proved it again just days ago…
Look, all we’re trying to say is that Phiwo’s definitely on her way to being embraced for the talent that she is and we’re tagging along for the ride to witness it all. So, we thought we would reach out to the ‘Caught Up’ creator for an interview that will undoubtedly convince you to fall in love with her, probably, again.
In this interview we discuss topics such as love (of course) and what interpretation of it comes naturally for her, the creative process & overall growth of her artistry. Enjoy folks.– DailyCapsule.com
What is your earliest memory of you singing?
Oooh that’s a good one, it’s probably singing for fun in the car with my uncle, because my mom’s brother is a Deep House fan and he would pick me up from school and drop me off at my mom’s work, on the way there we would listen to Deep house in KZN. So, that’s like my earliest memory of me singing my heart out but not professionally… My first memory of me “singing, singing” was probably in choir in grade three or four, maybe around then.
Can you list three songs for us: one that describes your childhood, one that describes your high school career and one that describes your varsity days?
Okay childhood… Sade’s ‘By Your Side’.
High School is when I started listening to Mick Jenkins, he is one of my earliest memories of really tapping into music so maybe The Waters [laughs].
Varsity… IAMDDB’s ‘Drippy’.
Hmm and in terms of your artistic inspiration from a performance point of view, which artists would you say you mimicked or took inspiration from early in your singing career?
Ooh, I went to a school (varsity) where I sang a lot so…
Yes [laughs], back at AFDA I would like to say Sade again because we have her Lovers Rock Tour at home so I used to watch that a lot… So I thought about Sade at the beginning and now I wanna be a full blown performer. I want to start getting into choreography and stuff… I feel like my future inspiration that I will take from is probably Victoria Monét.
Since your debut in 2021 up until now, what aspects as an artist (that you see in yourself) have you changed or improved on?
I think probably a lot… For one, I know my writing from ‘Never Playin’ (ft. Miles) to Phiwo right now has definitely grown. I’m exploring my writing talents a little bit more. I feel like I’ve always been a performer… I can feel now that my stage presence is way more present. Yes, I do still think about the sound and light or whatever because that has always been my problem. I overthink while I’m performing but now I’m comfortable in my performance. I think those are the main things that I can say have for sure improved.
For one, I know for a fact that I’m going to be an incredibly grateful person up on that stage…– Phiwo
So, I went on a Phiwo (music) binge and I listened to everything…
And the overarching themes seem to be around “love”, not a toxic one though. Can you give us your views or interpretations of love?
Love as a whole is a lot, there’s so much that you can unpack in love. It’s funny that you say my direction in love is not toxic because I’m very much used to a toxic portrayal of love so now that I’m not in a toxic space it’s so much easier to write about the non toxicity of it… Obviously I don’t want to be too in love & everything, every now & then I’ll do a sprinkle of what the girls are going through.
[Laughs] A sprinkle of, you know?, but I prefer talking about how pure it is because love is so good. Love is such a clean concept. The idea that there are people put into your life for you to just love them and enjoy the experience with them is so nice. Once you just simply the idea of love then that is what it is to me because it’s a blessing to experience someone and to experience them in a positive light like love. It’s so amazing.
Yeah I think that’s love for me, it’s pure, it’s easy… Okay, it’s not easy but it shouldn’t feel hard rather…
Do you know your love languages to receive and your love languages to give?
Yeah, I do.
So, how do you like to receive love?
I’m very much an “acts of service” person. I love it when people are doing something for me. It doesn’t have to be something extravagant or whatever but the fact that someone thought to do something for you is my favorite receptor, receiving… [laughs]
But also words of affirmation are pretty up there, quality time is also pretty up there but acts of service is my number one and then also, vice versa, I love doing things for people. How I show my love for you is by showing up.
Romantic love is the easiest to write about…– Phiwo
Let’s go to your creative process, are you an artist that uses their creative license a lot more or are you something that is rooted in storytelling that either involves yourself or people immediately around you?
It actually just depends on the day. I’m both because I can easily tell myself that “okay, right now I wanna talk about the people around me” but I can also easily take myself out of myself and write from a different perspective that I had maybe, gone through or maybe a friend has gone through especially when I’m helping my friends write when we’re in studio all together.
So, it really depends on the song, the situation and the session.
When you’re free to create anything that comes to mind, what interpretation of love comes more naturally to you?
A very in love & positive interpretation… No matter what the beat is saying, I feel like in my features I’m more like “okay, what do you want from me?”, “what do you want to talk about in the song?” and then we’ll go from there but if I’m just having a random session then I’m probably talking about a positive look on love. It depends on the situation but love is easiest to talk about because we’ve all been through some kind of it.
Would you say it’s romantic love the most?
Romantic love is the easiest to write about but love in general because I’m also now growing more into talking about people around me because I feel like if I just keep on talking about love then there’s so much I can talk about… I’m growing now into the love for the people around me or the emotions that the people around me make me feel.
That’s a perfect segway into the next question. 2021 was a big year for you, how did you conceptualize the Letters EP?
So, the tape actually started by being called Four Letters. I knew that I wanted this tape to be four songs because back then I was still very much “AFDA brain” like I was still operating off what I was used to from school. Before I even started recording anything, I knew that it was going to be called Four Letters because I wanted to write letters to four people.
From there I went into thinking about who I wanted to talk to and what I did I want to talk to them about. I just started recording the first song and it was ‘Keep That/Bring That’ (ft. Miles) if I’m not mistaken then I said “okay, shap this is a cool intro” but then I put it in the back-burner, went on about my day until the next session came when I recorded ‘call me’.
I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with ‘Keep That/Bring That’ but I knew that I wanted the first song, where I’m talking directly to someone, to be about the first love and the next song after that to be about a hard love. The third song after that would be about “the one” because I knew that there were three loves in your life… In your life you’re going to have three really important partners so I wanted to play into that. The idea of the three was very important to me because of that.
Artists like yourself tend to be special because you’re great at making projects. Other artists, in the infancy of their careers, tend to be very good at just making singles and the project making ability comes in after they’ve found themselves…
Thinking about it the reverse for you, when you’re working on singles, do you have the same sort of concept approach or is it a thing of releasing the one that’s banging the most?
So I’m actually not good at making singles because I’ve never had a real attempt at being in a “single” space. ‘Never Playin’ being my first single wasn’t like planned until we had to plan it for real because going into the studio I didn’t know that the song was going to be mine, Miles and DoouShii ended up giving it to me. I was actually coming into their studio session, it was never supposed to be mine…
And then ‘Bad 4 You’ (ft. Adrienne Foo) as well because that’s my only other single. ‘Bad 4 You ‘ was something that me and Adrienne recorded and then we just put on the back-burner, so I never actually got into that stage where I was like this is a single session, this is what I’m going to do about it.
But I think I’m very much open to doing it, especially in a time when I want to start working on my debut album so I need to think about things like singles properly.
love is easiest to talk about because we’ve all been through some kind of it.– Phiwo
Speaking about the “AFDA brain”…
What is the methodology behind it?
My brain enjoys structure. I’m not a go with the flow kind of person, especially when it comes to work. I need to know what am I doing, when am I doing it and how am i going to do it… What AFDA did was teach me structure. So it taught me that you need a concept, research on the concept and then you need to turn the concept into what the aesthetics of it are.
I think I really took that structure of thinking and it makes it a little bit easier to come up with things like projects because you have to think all the way through.
Lets move on to your collaborations You’re very excellent at being a complimentary artist which is not a role that is easy to play on a feature. How do you approach collaborations and why is it such a seamless process for you?
So for one, thank you! Two, I feel like I’m just lucky to be in studio sessions with the people that I’m in sessions with and be in conversations with the people I’m having conversations with because they really make it easy. For me collaborations need to be fun because I listen to my music hey! No one supports me more than me…
[Laughs] I need to make sure that it’s something that I want to listen to when I’m cleaning, when I’m making some food and when I’m with my friends. I make sure that my collabs make sense especially because I listen to these people’s music. So, I take it as I’m making a song for myself. Yes it’s a feature and yeah, it’s not your (my) song but it’s kinda my song… Collabs are just really cool because of that.
On Bludbunz ‘SMOKE’ (with Roho) , I was kind of blown away by it because you delivered in a way that we haven’t heard you deliver before.
Were you pushed to do that or was it something brought to life by design?
So when Bunz sent me the beat, he sent it to me a long time ago. I wrote to it and then just put it on the side. When I write to beats, I usually record on my phone so the way that it was recorded on my phone is not the same way that i delivered it because I think he actually told me just a few days before (the recording) that he put Roho on the first verse and i was like of shit, now I have to fight for my life [laughs].
I knew that was my moment to fight. So, when I heard Roho’s verse on the day I was like “okay, shap”, I needed to change the tone of how I am singing… Me and Bunz that day spent like an hour or two just lying down vocals and he kept saying have fun. I was literally just having fun, especially since it was something I hadn’t done before in that way.
In fact, you can hear something that I’ve recorded this year. You’re going to be able to hear if something is old from me or if something is from 2023 because the way that I’ve approached the features that are on the way still, is crazy…
I feel like I’m just lucky to be in studio sessions with the people that I’m in sessions with and be in conversations with the people I’m having conversations with…Phiwo
Why are you on such a feature run? Is this a way to exercise your muscles in preparation of your debut album?
Hmm, well it actually wasn’t planned to be on these many features, I actually just enjoy going on people’s songs. So every time somebody came to me with an idea, I just said yes let’s do it. The only plans I had this year was to drop an EP because it’s been two years since the last one but from the beginning of the year everyone that I recorded with last year was like “yo, dude we’re dropping…”. So, I was like that’s cool, free promo pre the EP… [Laughs] I’ll take it.
Everyone’s features coming in the way that they did also put another battery in the back of my neck because now I’m part of a different conversation. I went from being a part of the Phiwo and Adrienne Foo conversation to, okay, Phiwo Letters conversation to, okay, the Phiwo no EP, “where’s the music”, “what’s going on?” so it was the perfect “hey guys, I’m still around, I promise it’s not for nothing.” So, you could say it was kind of like a workout to the EP or the EP reception because it’s been finding its way to where it’s at right now but yeah, I feel like the features gave me a better “back into” music again.
Okay, ‘Never Playin” Phiwo was shy about her talent…
Letters Phiwo was finding and settled on her sound…
Sophomore/EP Phiwo is ready for what’s next…
I think that’s the best way to describe sophomore Phiwo, like I’m ready.
For one, I know for a fact that I’m going to be an incredibly grateful person up on that stage because I know that yes I would’ve killed it and done an amazing job to get where I’ve gotten but I know that it wouldn’t have been without GOD, my family and my friends, my man… [laughs] I know it will definitely be gratitude to everyone who stuck besides me.
So, I think for sure my speech will definitely be along the lines of reminding myself that I didn’t go through the things I went through for nothing and that I’m here for a reason.