The evolution of Moonchild Sanelly

Moonchild Sanelly. Photo: Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images

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With talent, a patent hairstyle and hips that definitely don’t lie, blue-haired bombshell Sanelisiwe Twisha, known professionally as Moonchild Sanelly, has become a force within the music industry. Born on November 20, 1987, Moonchild Sanelly has established herself as a central part of a musical history that will be talked about for decades.

Raised in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape into an artistic family with a jazz singer mother, a hip-hop producer brother and kwaito dancer cousins, the musician has been exposed to art all her life.

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After making her artistic debut on the streets of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal, among poets and artists, she soon moved to Gauteng to pursue her dreams full-time in Johannesburg.

After grinding for nearly a decade, her fame came when she performed on DJ Shimza’s song Makhe. It was then that the world got a taste of Moonchild Sanelly’s self-taught genre that she dubbed future ghetto punk.

With lyrics you can’t help but sing along to, his music career has become a true testament to authenticity. But how has Moonchild Sanelly’s musical journey evolved over the years?

In March 2015, she released her first album Rabulapha!

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Listening to it now makes you realize how practice makes perfect.

With a gritty and raw sound, this is where we started to see his musical talent. Jamming the album is guaranteed to stir up a mix of emotions, listening to raw talent, with days of jazz pipes, and an edgy electro/pop sound, made the album a beautifully confusing listen. She even used reggae inspirations for her song Don’t Believe the Hype.

Rabulapha! was the kind of experimental album that made it difficult to understand Moonchild Sanelly’s sonic purpose.

One thing was clear, she had brave ideas that would spawn a myriad of musicians whose creativity took them to places we had yet to hear in South African music. And there’s still no one like Moonchild Sanelly.

After her breakthrough success, she became a star performer, with songs playing on radio stations for months. His Midnight Starring, featuring heavyweights DJ Maphorisa and Bazoyenza hitmaker Busiswa, was subsequently nominated for the Mzansi Kwaito and House Music Awards in 2018 for Best Collaboration. iWalk Ye Phara achieved huge success in the gqom genre in the same year.

Every feature made Moonchild bigger. And in 2020, she would win two of her biggest feature films to date, one with megastar Beyoncé Knowles in the song My Power for American superstar’s monumental musical film Black is King. Another feature with the enigmatic group of the Gorillaz in the song With Love To An Ex elevated her even further.

We really got to see her shine with her EP. In 2019, she released Nudes, an eight-track EP that pays homage to all the bad bitches dealing with inferior men. The project included hits such as Bashiri, F-Boyz, Weh Mameh and Thunda Thighs.

The nudes created a deeper understanding of what she was trying to do with her music. Reminiscent of British musician MIA (Mahangi “Maya” Arulpragasam), Moonchild has become a hybrid voice for African identity, heritage and international musical trends.

His latest album Phases, released this month, shows a kind of growth I didn’t know was possible for Moonchild. It even looks like she’s loosening the reins of her signature blue hair, with the album cover showing off her different colored hair.

It’s clear the album was inspired by the many parts of the world and musicians she’s interacted with over the past few years.

Demon is reminiscent of the grungy sound of the Gorillaz, and I could only imagine Undumpable with functionality from none other than MIA, while Money Tree brings us back to Moonchild during its Rabulapha! days.

Listening to Moonchild Sanelly today is truly liberating, inspiring and speaks volumes about our untapped local talent. With the world finally at her disposal, you can’t help but feel excited about the kind of art Moonchild will allow herself to experience and explore.


Janice Phiri

cultural writer


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