Back in April, a statue of British colonialist Cecil John Rhodes was removed from the University of Cape Town in South Africa following protests by the student body over his racist legacy. In the lead-up to the historical moment, there was a groundswell of social media support, complete with its very own hashtag: #RhodesMustFall. “I'm happy that I was part of it,” says 21-year-old fine arts student Angelo Antonio Valerio, aka ANGEL-HO, over Skype. This week, he’s set to drop his debut EP via Texan producer Rabit’s new Halcyon Veil label, mastered by Arca. “[Rhodes] basically sparked a generation of dictators like Hitler," Valerio continues. "He kind of messed up the world.” The statue had been standing on the university campus since 1934, and there’s still a scholarship in Rhodes name, which, Valerio says, has historically been awarded to straight, white males. “It was still like that until two or three years ago, when they started giving it to people of color,” he says.
Racial lines continue to fragment Cape Town, including its electronic music scene: “It’s predominantly white in the city and not inclusive for POC [people of color],” he continues. “It’s like you either fit the mould, or you just do you, basically.” For Valerio, who was born and raised in the city, that meant developing a practice initially in video and live performance, and DJ-ing R&B and ballroom chants at the city’s few experimental parties. His own music came later, growing out of sounds that he made to accompany his live performances at design and art fairs. At one event back in February that involved “climbing scaffolding in stripper heels, smashing printers, and dancing on glass.”
The sound of a shattered window, a sinister laugh, and a barking dog are just a few of the sonic elements that punctuate Angelo’s intensely visceral EP, ASCENSION. It’s not only his own debut, but the first record representing NON Records, a collective he co-founded just a few months ago with fellow artists Chino Amobi in Richmond and Nkisi in London. The three collaborators have been steadily dropping incendiary tracks on their joint Soundcloud over the past couple of months, and make up a conversational triangle between South Africa, America, and the UK: “It was interesting for me to have this dialogue between [these countries], considering our colonial histories,” says Valerio. “And creating music that's in resistance to [that].”
Ahead of the release of ASCENSION this Friday 7th August, Valerio has made a special ANGEL-HO mixtape—stream it above—that previews some of the tracks on the EP alongside other original material, including a collaboration with Chino Amobi. The following interview took place over the course of a Skype conversation and several emails.
Where are you right now? Please describe your surroundings.
ANGEL-HO: I’m at home surrounded by ANGEL-HO paraphernalia, works that are in progress, a pile of books including Judith Butler, another titled Violence Performed, and LED lights. There is load shedding in my area but the battery life is strong. There’s a barber and butcher next door—you can get your hair and oxtail cut at the same time.
What is load shedding?
It’s what we are currently going through in South Africa, where power stations cannot meet the demand for electricity. There's a timetable available online so you can know when it's happening in your area—they last for about two hours in Cape Town and up to four hours in Johannesburg.
Where did the name ANGEL-HO come from?
I've been called Angel-Ho most of my life. My cousin started calling me Angel-Ho when I was really young, and it kind of just stuck with me through everything. It's kind of been my...not alter ego, but like my true form in a way. It's the side of me where I just kind of let loose, let free, and say what I want to say.
Your ASCENSION EP is coming out on Rabit's new label this Friday. How did that come about?
Rabit and I have been discussing the EP release for a while. It’s been a long process to get to the point where I can comfortably put out work I am proud of, and that goes beyond just the sound. I did a performance of ASCENSION at Design Indaba at the beginning of February and gave away copies of the rawest hour-long mix. I’ve been tweaking the EP to the point where my manicure would shatter.
Arca mastered the EP. What was it like working with him?
Well, Arca is a genius and his production is flawless. He completely understood the content of the EP, which is important, considering that we are dealing with a whole lot of cuuuunt, so no one else could’ve touched these tracks besides him. I have so much respect for what he is doing.
There’s a spoken word snippet on the track "Removals" that says, We were here first. Is that a commentary on colonialism?
In the context of South Africa, POC were forcibly removed and relocated to racially segregated areas. This was called the Group Areas Act , and it still echoes today in the form of gentrification. Removing bodies from public space has become more psychological than physical; it’s a self-surveying process, and it’s really impacted the way people “perform” themselves in public and private spaces. For example, I would go with my friends to spots in town and people would just stare because we’re POC in a predominantly white space. People don’t feel comfortable around us, because they don’t know how to engage with POC, but the majority of strictly hip-hop events in Cape Town are run by white people? The real issue with this track is discussing the removal of African knowledge systems from history.
“NON is a collective of African artists and of the diaspora using sound as their medium to articulate the recurring violence on non-white bodies, by which we mean people of color.”—ANGEL-HO
What is NON and how did it come to be?
NON is a collective of African artists and of the diaspora using sound as their medium to articulate the recurring violence on non-white bodies—by which we mean people of color. It was formed by Chino Amobi, Nkisi, and myself. It started because we are angry about having to operate within policing political systems which are still functioning [under the] effects of colonization. We all felt an agency to communicate with each other and discuss how change can be encouraged and tangible—not only preached, but practiced.
How did you first come into contact with Chino and Nkisi's work?
Chino and I became friends on Facebook and then later engaged on Soundcloud; I really enjoy the texture he creates with sound. We were discussing the concerns we highlight in our music, and the connection was instant. I feel like we are souls that have crossed paths in a past life and are just reconnecting in this lifetime. He introduced me to Nkisi, and I realized we are all on similar frequencies. We connected instantly cause we have similar issues and themes that we deal with regarding the body. I mean everything that we're doing is about communication if you try and get down to it. You know Pieter-Dirk Uys? He’s a South African drag queen who's been around since during the apartheid era—very political. He gave a recent interview where he was talking about language and political regimes, and the forms of apartheid that still exist or that take form in other ways. I mean, that's happening right now. At the end of the day, political systems make a lot of money, and that's what drives them.
When did NON start?
NON was in effect when we put out our first release on Soundcloud, [but] I think of NON as existing before we found each other. The idea of being born into a minority in society already creates that decision for you—your skin color becomes the factor that determines the course of your life. I've always felt out of place growing up, being placed within hegemonic systems. The first experience I will never forget was how my teachers told me to speak proper English in the first phase of my education. I now look back realizing how I've always tried to create my own "fantasy" where I can be myself. NON is making these conditions visible. This generation is powerful, and it is exciting to see the journey unfold.
“I see genres such as house, dance, and electronic soundscapes having a forgotten genealogy. These forms emerged out of the struggle of LGBTQ people existing in hegemonic culture. It’s a piranha feast in mainstream music with how it is being consumed without thought for its historical significance.”—ANGEL-HO
There's been a lot of attention on politically minded music recently, but NON seems to make a case for musically minded politics.
Let us be clear: music is always political, but in contemporary times I see genres such as house, dance, and electronic soundscapes having a forgotten genealogy. These forms emerged out of the struggle of LGBTQ people existing in hegemonic culture. It’s a piranha feast in mainstream music with how it is being consumed without thought for its historical significance.
Sound is a universal language for communicating with people from different cultures. Its ambiguous form makes it accessible. The corporeal trauma NON deals with is shared, and the narrative in our music deals in is healing. It's accepting of our struggles and overcoming them.
There's also been growing visibility for artists from across Africa, which has highlighted the still-vast gap between western perceptions and daily reality for those living within the continent. Is part of NON's goal to challenge those perceptions?
One of the main goals of NON is to create our own language and ways of communicating about the shared corporal and spiritual concerns of non-white bodies. Many of Africa’s knowledge systems have been removed, utilized, diluted by Western ideals. But it is really the West that needs to look at what they value and how they function globally: colonization disguised as democracy, projecting failing systems of government.
People are still regarding Africa as a country, and that we do not have any standard of living or that we need the West to clutch to life—it’s so foolish. To think that there is a gap in the way the West views Africa is true, but it is not for us to change these fetishized notions; it’s for the West to negotiate with themselves because they have created illusive ideas. It is all delusion really—the grass is not always greener on the other side. They’ve got picket fences, chain franchises, and everything packaged. I feel the main problem in the world right now is communication. So before the West changes their perceptions, they need to learn to communicate with themselves.
“To think that there is a gap in the way the West views Africa is true, but it is not for us to change these fetishized notions; it’s for the West to negotiate with themselves.”—ANGEL-HO
Are young people South Africa generally politicized?
The group of people that I'm surrounded by are really politically inclined. That's due to the education here—the education system really sucks at the moment. Not a lot of children are being encouraged to study further. They still have that mindset where people of color, specifically here, can't do anything more than high school.
Yeah, it's still like that here. That mindset is still very present in the spaces that I'm in as well. I'm the only person of color in my year studying fine art, and that's crazy.
I am specifically talking about colored people. There's black, white, and colored—that's just how it works here in South Africa; it's really terrible. There's a majority of white female students studying at my institution, there's probably like 15% black people, and then there's me, the only colored person in my year.
What does “colored” refer to in South Africa?
It's mixed race, I guess. Basically Cape Malay—my mother has a Dutch heritage—but yeah, it's like yellow bone, you know? It's so racially segregated [in South Africa]. Even though our country is racially a democracy, it's not really—it's just a curtain.
Are there politicians coming up that you are behind and excited by?
The African National Congress led the South Africa into a democracy—they are still the leading party in our country—but there's still a lot of corruption that's present right now. But [the opposition party] Democratic Alliance is really about empowering the youth. The youth right now is more aware than ever of what's going on, and that's a good thing. It's really exciting to see.
How does being part of NON help your own creative endeavors?
The most important thing about being in a collective is that it is an incubator for discussions, ideas, and things we want to accomplish. Our collective works because we have solid communication, commonalities, and struggles that unite us. There’s strength in numbers, and change cannot be created alone.
I feel like the future is to collaborate. To collaborate is really about understanding people from where they come from, and also learning more about yourself through them. That's something I hope people take away from our engagement with each other. People need to travel the world, people need to see how other people live; we can't keep staying in our bubbles.
And finally, what else can we expect from Angel-Ho in the future?
A beautiful live installation and some exciting projects released on NON. Feeling blessed. Also, can I tell the kids to stay in school?
ANGEL-HO - EXOUÇIE (POWERS)
ANGEL-HO - YAH CUNT
ANGEL-HO - INSIDE THE FLUX OF MIND
ANGEL-HO - (TO SERVE IT)
ANGEL-HO - CHAMBERS
ANGEL-HO - BITCH LET IT ALL OUT
ANGEL-HO - RÉVOLTER
ANGEL-HO / CHINO AMOBI - ANGEL PASS
Mix artwork by Sugar Mist.