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Moonchild Sanelly

Determinedly doing things her own way and standing up for what she believes in has long been ingrained in the psyche of trailblazing South African musician Moonchild Sanelly, whose drive to succeed has been fuelled by personal pain and trauma. 

Growing up in Port Elizabeth with a hip-hop producer brother and a mum who would put her onstage from a young age to compete in dance competitions, Sanelisiwe Twisha’s music-filled childhood was full of creativity. Whether it was self-choreographing dance routines to Spice Girls tracks, teaching herself to play the piano, singing at church with her family, or starting to write poetry, expression and being artistically free was always encouraged. 

Her passion for music became ignited when she moved to Durban in 2005 (initially to study fashion) and she found herself able to turn her hand to any genre. Quickly immersing herself in the local scene there – and in Johannesburg, where she later relocated to – she would write for reggae bands and freestyle against other rappers, often overcoming misogynistic attitudes in the process. “In my writing, I would pay homage to my hard times and the many years that I struggled, because it has shaped me,” she says.  

It didn’t take long until she established her own signature sound: self-described as ‘future-ghetto-funk’, it would catapult Moonchild Sanelly to become South Africa’s most unique performer. Having crafted an electrifying live show – and designed flamboyant outfits to perform in – she became a superstar on her home turf. But she soon felt as though she had “reached my ceiling; my style of music was being ostracised – because I wasn’t being understood with what I was doing”.  

Instead of limiting her reach, however, she took a commercialised approach to unapologetically spreading her message – one of female sexual empowerment: “liberation for women, in the bedroom, in the boardroom, knowing your power… I needed to be heard by a lot of people”.   In line with her manifested vision, she found a global audience that gravitated towards her and began spreading her ethos to women around the world, performing at festivals such as SXSW, Primavera, Glastonbury, Boardmasters.