Along with Chino Amobi and Nkisi, the Cape Town producer Angel-Ho founded the label NON Worldwide. This collective of African and diaspora artists are bound by the grand but necessary ethos: “using sound as their primary media, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power”. The Western canon was born from the colonial imaginary. Thus, even the present treatments of the canon are deeply embedded in its origins of racialized, gendered, and nationalized borders. The self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde intimated, “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” NON works toward dismantling the oppressive structures by transgressing the colonial imaginary through sound, words, and performance. For adding the prefix “non” to the dominant culture’s adjectives is a vital political action. NON asserts NON-colonial, NON-patriarchal, NON-racial capitalist, and more.
On Angel-Ho’s debut EP ASCENSION, NON-musicality was the mode for amplifying the enduring consequences of 1950’s Group Areas Act, in South Africa. The tools of visceral sounds and haunting sonic imagery uncovered the intergenerational psychological effects of displacing physical bodies. Now, on Angel-Ho’s debut full-length Death Becomes Her, she introduces her voice as the prominent tool.
While Angel-Ho has now joined Hyperdub, NON’s ethos wages on in her art. Death Becomes Her works toward amorphous trans identities. She told Dazed, “being trans doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to fall to a death sentence… You’re going to experience life in all its wonders.” Accordingly, on “Muse to You”, she declares, “No longer beaten and abused / You are the girl who paid her dues / You are the muse.” This is a self-affirmation but also a reminder to her kin. Indeed, the fight for trans rights and protection is vital, but also the care for oneself is necessary. To return to Lorde, she said, “this is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns… This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.” The responsibility to change the dominant structures should not be wholly placed onto the oppressed people. As Angel-Ho asserts, she can be her own muse and find wonders.
While ASCENSION flexed Angel-Ho’s abilities as a producer, Death Becomes Her shares her potential as an outspoken, all-faceted pop icon. Much like SOPHIE on “It’s Okay to Cry”, Angel-Ho debuts her voice to reclaim and rewrite her own narrative. On “Pose”, Angel-Ho rightfully dubs herself the “head honcho” as she dominates the beat that is produced by GAIKA and Bon. With such a commanding vocal performance, it is quite clear why she has shifted her attention from being a producer to a full-on pop performer. Indeed, tracks like “Drama” and “Desify” reaffirm Angel-Ho’s undeniable talent for producing thoughtfully abstracted beats, but songs such as “Good Friday Daddy” prove that her approach to experimental production can also be applied to writing vocals that are just as wild and gripping.
Moreover, Angel-Ho’s ambitious vision as a vocal performer is evident on songs such as “Live”. She defamiliarizes popular and memetic content to tell her own story. In just four and a half minutes, the chorus of “Stayin’ Alive” is repurposed to celebrate her identity, “I feel so alive”; Duran Duran’s “Notorious” is ad-libbed, just as the Notorious B.I.G. famously sampled; and, many other early pop hits are subtly alluded to. The track’s litany of cultural references become just as dizzying and enthralling as the beat’s thrashing swoops and scorched tones.
Perhaps, Angel-Ho’s intricate weaving of varying expressions and cultural references performs the amorphous trans identity, dismantling the colonial imaginary and its supposed binaries. Her sound, words, and performances are complex, fluid, and wholly reject fixed categories. Yet, Death Becomes Her is only the introduction to the artist and identity that is always developing, surviving, and celebrating. The debut full-length just introduced her voice, and so, there is much more to be discovered. And, regardless of whether Angel-Ho commits to becoming a pop star, reverts to being a producer, or, most likely, maintains both abilities, her voice matters.