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Angel-HoPhotograph courtesy of Angel-Ho

Meet the Cape Town musician resisting systematic oppression

Angel-Ho opens up about their experience as a non-binary queer artist working through the aftermath of colonialism

Born out of post-colonial trauma and displacement, Angel-Ho is the socially conscious musical persona created by queer South African creative Angelo Valerio. Based in Cape Town, a city with a deep history of oppression, intrusion and slavery since the 17th century, Angel-Ho creates dense and emotional electronic tracks with a sound reminiscent of New York’s Fade To Mind movement. Valerio, an exceptionally intelligent artist, musician and activist, aims to bring light to the “mechanized systems of oppression” that exist in our society through their craft. 

Tracks like “Removals” and “Revolter” off debut EP Ascension, mastered by electronic music mastermind Arca, are a reflection of the anxiety and immediacy of a social revolution in South Africa earlier in the year. In March of 2015, #rhodesmustfall, a hashtag protesting for the removal of a statue of white supremacist and colonial forefather Cecil Rhodes from The University of Cape Town began trending on twitter. Eventually, this led to the removal of the signifier of Cape Town’s volatile cultural history. The artist says this revolution is a factor that drives many of the triumphant themes and feelings of solidarity behind their music.

Dazed caught up with Angel-Ho to discuss ignorance in creative spaces, the damage of racial segregation in South Africa and mending and uniting creatives in Cape Town through self-made artist collective NON Records

How would you describe your sound?

Angel-Ho: Sensitive, schizophrenic cinematic cunt, hyper-visceral, a rebirth and unlearning, RIP white cis-heteronormativity, claustrophobic at times, expanding, kinetic, dimensional-healing, made by an opinionated brown non-binary queer.

Do you see Angelo Valerio and Angel-Ho as different characters/identities?

Angel-Ho: I see both pronouns, one assigned and another chosen. There are so many complexities to South Africa’s history which moulds my reality, identity and have become components of my DNA, through the traumas my parents experienced living during Apartheid South Africa. It has only been 20 years since its end, and has left generations feeling displaced, forcefully removed from their homes where cultures are born, and left scaring the land like a room full of needles and one island of hay. So Angel-Ho is a result of that trauma.

Do you think racial discrimination is the same within South Africa’s creative spaces as it is outside of it?

Angel-Ho: People outside of the creative industries have more rationality than the majority. It is important, as creatives, to educate ourselves about systematic oppressions in our significant professions and our “work” spaces.

People often dismiss race and prejudice through something so simple as learning which pronoun to call someone. I prefer they/them. The policing by cis(gender), white heteronormative people assimilated onto our work and bodies is never addressed. Before, I felt like it was my responsibility to educate ignorant white people, but it is their obligation to unlearn and acknowledge their privilege by themselves.

The instrumentals on a few your tracks, like “Revolter”, feel intense and stressful – why do you infuse a level of anxiety into your music? 

Angel-Ho: “Revolter” was made so quickly, so rawly, so unapologetically. As much tension you may feel, I found the composition to be (more like) adrenaline and excitement for our country. There’s a greater unity happening that I have never experienced in my life; a mass demonstration of our bodies that are united in our intersectionality. One of the most magical moments I’ve seen was white people using their privilege during a mass protest outside parliament to shield black students from police brutality, because there is no way a police officer is going to be violent towards a white person and treat them equally to the law. I think the world can learn from that moment.  

“We are not seeking acceptance from cisgender hetero oppressors – our actions alone communicate change” – Angel-Ho

“Solidarity” is a powerful track with an equally powerful name — how do you encourage unity and acceptance through your music?

Angel-Ho: There’s unity in joint experiences and shared realities, but more importantly through conversation, and that happens when listening to my music.

There is a misconception that we seek acceptance as brown, queer, non-binary people. We are not seeking acceptance from cisgender hetero oppressors – our actions alone communicate change. Our self-love and awareness, loudness, protest, and visibility is enough encouragement. The act of acceptance needs to happen by those in a state of denial. My agency is to create safe spaces for people of colour, oppose to the violent ones within our “communal” spaces, like clubs, galleries, museums, institutions, corporate entities, all controlled within the hegemony.   

Ascension is encouraging discussions around South Africa’s colonial past present and future. It is an acknowledgement of the residual violence that our people have had to experience. Acceptance of my trauma allowed me to heal and start thinking about how we can create some change; not just by mobilizing online spaces, but by removing corrupt powers from our respective nations.  

What is NON and how did it come about?

Angel-Ho: NON is an artist collective found by Chino Amobi, Nkisi and myself. We function as one territory in three different nations having a dialogue about race, identity and self-expression through sound. We are storytellers. We created a platform for artists who make music that is not necessarily accepted within the industry that excludes minorities, or is run by capitalism. NON was magnetic in how it formed – we all gravitated to each other. We are growing rapidly, which is exciting because it enables us to create safe online/offline spaces for artists, and we can continue doing so. 

Artists like yourself and Dope Saint Jude are part of the new wave of “alternative” artists coming out of Cape Town — do you think there is a fear of this newness among the general public? 

Angel-Ho: There is definitely tension within any general public to do with our visibility as queer bodies making music within spaces which are dominated by white power. What I see with a lot of artists my age is that they often compromise and live for the hype, and start doing commercials for Puma and things where those brands have a history of exploiting artists. It’s because of that fear of not being accepted by general public. Instead, they feed a perception of themselves which is assumed to be likeable and commercial. I respect a hustle but if you partner with a brand, who is benefiting who? Don’t let these corporate entities appropriate your bodies to make their products desirable. If you’re compromising – ask yourself why.

How are you bringing LGBTQ issues to light in South Africa through your music?

Angel-Ho: There are so many experiences that are ignored within our LGBTQ community in South Africa. ‘Pride’ has been represented by white gay men for years now, so it’s a space in celebration of cisgender heteronormative values. Being brown and queer, the rainbow is a tarnished symbol in my eyes. It does not speak to our current realities and I’ve never had an affinity to the false nationalism the rainbow represents. My soundscapes have become conversation starters about our current failing government (who are) not aiding the black minority in our country. Each note is visceral, reactionary and finishing the sentences which are often left floating in abyss of our countries social political discourse. 

What do you hope to ultimately achieve as Angel-Ho?

Angel-Ho: I want to achieve so many things. I want to start rehearsing my tour performance, create a safe club space where non-binary queer and trans people can be free from the policing of cis white men who appropriate an idea of hip hop at their events and make subcultures their new toys. I want to spread clarity, to continue encouraging new languages in art, and new ways of communicating my experiences as a brown, non-binary queer.