XHOSA is a 23 year-old musician, singer-songwriter, producer, and creative working in Brooklyn.
She is known for her creative approach to making music that plays with genre and style, both sonically and visually. We met up with XHOSA to talk about music, art, and universal love.
CC: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you initially got interested in music?
X: I heard stories about me at a very early age singing in public spaces and trying to play the piano, so my parents indulged me and got me piano lessons at the age of six. I started writing songs at the age of eight, and at that point, I asked my piano teacher to focus more on helping me build song structure instead of learning classical piano music. I grew up in Brooklyn with two artist parents, so I think I was always encouraged to be creative. I have an overall vision for what I want to convey as an artist and music is just the thing that I’m best at.
CC: You’re known for genre blending. What genres are most prevalent in your music and why are these important to your musical persona?
X: I’m most inspired by hip-hop, R&B, post-punk, and new wave. I think a big part of why they’re important to me is due to my upbringing and what feels most close to home. The spirit of raw energy and rebellion associated with punk and hip-hop is something I really relate to and want to convey. I feel like those genres, before they got commodified, helped push the world forward in great ways.
CC: You grew up in Brooklyn. Do you think that had a big impact on your music and your development as an artist?
X: Yeah, you could definitely say that. Growing up in New York is like nothing else. You just never know what to expect – I’ve been here and I still never know what to expect or what’s around the corner or what’s going to change. There’s this bombastic “gotta keep pushing” energy and the city drives you to be that way as well. I think some of the genres I focus on embody that same spirit.
CC: I know empowerment is an important sentiment in your work. I was wondering if you had any other themes that are prevalent throughout either your music as a sound or in your lyrics.
X: Empowerment is definitely a really big one, and the concept of universal love is really attached to the idea that I want to convey. I do believe a utopia could exist if we were healing and listening to each other better. I want to be a vessel to communicate that we could have something better if we really cared about each other and ourselves. “Raw” is the name of one of my tracks, and I think that has taken on a theme sonically, lyrically, and emotionally in my music.
CC: Can you name some of your biggest influencers?
X: Ooo that’s hard. I really like Björk, M.I.A., Sade… Kanye really influenced me and I think he gave me the confidence to rap when I was younger. Him and Azalea Banks and Nikki Minaj coming out and all happening at the same time made me feel confident enough to try it.
CC: What does your musical process look like?
X: It’s constantly changing. Right now I’ve been jamming a lot, which has been making me feel really confident in my abilities. It began with me practicing and writing in my room – very secluded, very singer-songwriter, very emotional. I was kind of private about my stuff at that point just because it was really personal. Then I learned how to produce, and I started getting more confident because producing is an area that not many women are really “allowed” to thrive in.
CC: What is the origin of your artist name and why did you choose it to represent you as an artist?
X: Xhosa is my middle name. I was originally supposed to be named Xhosa, but then my parents came up Amhara for my first name. I think it’s a really beautiful name, but it always felt “softer” than Xhosa. X’s look cool, and Xhosa felt more regal.
CC: Do you think that part of wanting a “stronger-sounding” name is because you’re a woman in this field and having a stronger name gives an extra footing?
X: I do think Xhosa has more of an androgynous freedom to it and better represents the character I want to portray. Amhara is softer and prettier and I think it is nice going in stronger and standing out more because a lot of people to this day try to box me in as a vocalist or singer and it’s frustrating because I didn’t study music for fifteen years to be categorized as just one of the aspects of what I do.
CC: I know you’re not scared of blending different genres but what about experimentation when it comes to making artwork to accompany your music?
X: I like to do collages and make multi-media work when I physically make art-I like making things fit together. I also really love fashion and I like using it to put together a strong, bold, editorial image for myself.
CC: A lot of images I’ve seen of you follow a specific aesthetic. How much do you think your aesthetic influences your music and vice versa?
X: With my music I want to create a world around it, so when I’m making music I think what that world would look like and what I, as a character in that world, would be wearing. I think this whole process has been me trying to create that persona and then de-constructing it and realizing that I was that person anyway.
I’m getting to that point now where I’m just like “do you, ” and it will be fine.
CC: Looking through some of your visuals I saw imagery ranging from a video of drones helping you put on your jacket to a collaboration you did with artist and animator Cult of Dang. It was interesting to see this string of futuristic aesthetics throughout your visuals, and I wanted to know if this is a theme you think about when making your work?
X: That theme came about in my work after I started producing and getting really tech-inspired. For a specific project I was covering Björk’s “Venus as a Boy, ” and all the sounds were made with synthesizers that I built. When I performed it live I created another program that would trigger the RGB of a video to change based on the pitch of my voice. Once this project happened, I became rally inspired by the boundlessness of technology. I think tech really does have a place in our world. As much as I love the natural world, I don’t think that they have to be separate. If we use tech to model the natural world, I think they could work together harmoniously.
CC: Do you think that art is compartmentalized? Do you find that people try to separate mediums into categories? You are either a musician or a fine artist or a photographer or a dancer but not a combination of these. And do you think the future of art is shifting towards a less medium-specific approach?
X: The people who know me and like me as an artist really appreciated what I was trying to do as an artist, but people who were trying to figure me out were a little confused about what I was doing. The way the world is set up is that you have to declare yourself as something specific before you can bend or break the rules in that field. Maybe when the artists popping up from this generation continue to do what they’re doing, they might be able to change the mold of what it means to be an artist. But at this point, I feel like you do kind of need to establish your talent in a specific field to begin with.
CC: How do you feel about performing live versus recording? Is there one you prefer?
X: I definitely prefer to perform. I like seeing the way people receive my music and I enjoy experiencing the response of my audience. I think I’m also inherently a little bit of a performer and I like having that platform to be showy because my main personality can be a little reserved at times. But when I’m on the stage I get to really do whatever I want and it’s not perceived as “oh she’s stealing the conversation” or something like that.
CC: What’s your ideal creative environment?
X: I want to be in Jamaica on a mountain with clear, huge 360 windows looking over a waterfall with a mango tree out back.
CC: As an artist do you feel like it is your responsibility to be politically active given the current socio-political climate?
X: Yes. I 100% believe I have a social responsibility even as a person, not just an artist. I think everybody should be thinking about how they can better the world. But I think these things aren’t new, and the way I try to inspire political change is more personal. I want to use music as a vehicle to make people feel empowered… I want music to be a call to action. I want to inspire people to heal themselves first before they even start thinking about everything else happening in the man-made world. Build yourself up, find a community, grow it, and learn how to be there for each other.
Xhosa is releasing a new video that will be her “editing and semi-directorial debut.” It will be a split video for the songs “Rawww” and “Make Me” on the latest release of her E.P. “Misleading.” She describes it as a mash-up of “a VHS, HD, green screen, painting, and video – a visual collage.” She is excited about the release, and you should be too!