The Jackie Queens​ DHLA innerview presented by Nyasha Themba Dhliwayo​


Photo Cred:  Ts'eliso Monaheng

"We are not here to be forgotten"

Jackie Queens on her art 
By Nyasha Themba Dhliwayo

Even if for some unfathomable reason, you willed your mind to "forget" Jackie Queens, your ears and heart would never permit such a travesty.

Ever since she seared her heartfelt vocals on the mainstream with the rousing track "Conqueror", the Zimbabwean born songstress has become a staple on playlists for discerning House Music listeners.

Her well thought out lyrics delivered in near pitch perfect high definition, demand not only to be heard, but to be understood and felt.

We had the pleasure to experience the presence of an artist who exudes the purposeful confidence of a woman who is secure in her craft and its unfolding influence on the world around her.

Enjoy this first of two and hopefully many more chapters as we converse with Jackie about her special relationship with House Music, influences and artistic identity.

DHLA: First things first! Over the past few months you have been teasing the upcoming release of a single titled "Mwanangu" and despite all our tantrums and attempts at coercion we and many other House heads are yet to get our dosage of this latest goodness. When exactly is it dropping!?
This year! Laughs

Jackie: In terms of releasing new music, this time round you have employed a somewhat different strategy in terms of a deliberate build up and resisting fan pressure to release "now, now, now!". Let us in on what the game plan is regarding this extended marketing "foreplay"?

It’s just learning from experience really. 
I didn’t want a repeat of “Conqueror” where the song was released in haste, with hard lessons.

Also, there’s other stuff I wanted to try out with this release that I haven’t done before and those things need time. 
I feel the need to put more effort into it than I have other projects because I’m taking my music more seriously now.

#DHLA: Some weeks back I saw a clip of Black Coffee dropping "Mwanangu" in one of his sets overseas. Boy oh boy did the crowd respond ever so instinctively with so much energy! What are some of the emotions you felt when you saw the clip and the reaction of the crowd to the song?

Jackie: Elation mostly: and a deep sense of gratitude.
 I have a grand appreciation for people who connect to something they have never heard before.

 It takes a special kind of openness.
House Music does that, on a spiritual level too.
 Which for me is its biggest draw card.

#DHLA: This isn't the first time Black Coffee has shown love for your music as a few years ago he dropped on quite a number of occasions a special edit of "Conqueror", your track with Enoo Napa. What does such acknowledgement by an icon mean for you?

Jackie: It’s a beautiful thing.
 He’s a major inspiration, all my goals wrapped in one amazing human being!

The one time I met him he called me “ma’am”! Laughs
 He told me he was a fan of mine like … who does that!?
Black Coffee that’s who.

 All his significant accomplishments aside, his humility endears him most to me.

That tells me he sees the humanity in people first, no matter how bright his star is shining it does not blind him to your presence.

 Now who wouldn’t want someone like that playing your music?

#DHLA: Talking of "Conqueror", this arguably is the track that introduced you to a wider audience. What's the story behind it in terms of when was it written and how did you get to work with Enoo Napa?

Jackie: My good friend Dyce Jones, who produced the original, set up a session for us to record.
 This was in 2012.

I’d had the instrumental for ages and I hadn’t written anything so I literally came up with it while waiting to go to the studio! Laughs

 He then sent the vocals to Enoo Napa and this remix existed for two years apparently without me knowing.

 I only found out about it on New Year’s Eve of 2015 when Black Coffee played it.

Enoo Napa says he was nervous coz it was his first remix so that’s why he didn’t tell me.

 I don’t believe him but anyway … Makes side eye

#DHLA: You clearly love House Music and House Music loves you back. When exactly did the love affair begin and how did it take root?

It began in the early 90s as a young girl and later watching Channel O in my teens.
 I remember clearly watching videos of Blue Six’s “Pure” which features Monique Bingham, Rhythmcentric’s “Come To Me” and early on falling in love with the likes of Crystal Waters’ “Gypsy Woman” and Robyn S “Show me Love”.

 I also had a major thing for Lebo Mathosa’s dance tracks.

So it was hearing that and after high school discovering Peven Everett in my early 20s, getting into a lot of UK Funky House, Donae’O was my spirit animal and Soulful House like DJ Spinna’s productions mostly.

 It was a long road of listening and eventually singing in true late bloomer fashion.

#DHLA: As predicted by a number of people, the "EDM" bubble seems to have burst.  What do you think the future holds for electronic music?

Jackie: Well … I have a thirteen year old whose playlist disputes that! Laughs
 But yeah, it’s hard to say.

Technology is changing rapidly which makes predicting this sort of thing very difficult.
 What I do foresee, and I guess this is already happening, is more niche genres and subcultures as we have more control (and are pushed by algorithms) over how we consume and create music.

 Which presents a myriad of possibilities, I think, for artists to feel less pressure to do what is popular because you can go find you some people who will really dig your stuff.
 There’ll be playlists dedicated to it, blogs, podcasts, radio shows, festivals etc.
You can easily find your slice in this big pie.

#DHLA: Becoming famous, putting a certain message across, making a couple millions or even just getting stuff of their chests...artists make music for so many different reasons. When you got into the industry what were your intentions?

Jackie: To sing really; I’d always wanted to sing house music.

DHLA: In what ways have these intentions evolved?

Jackie: I’ve become more purposeful in my work. I realised I didn’t just want to sing, I want to sing about things that matter to me, to women, to black children.
 I want to change how women are treated in the industry, I want there to be more of us, f#@king sh*t up!
 So now everything I do revolves around that; my sense of purpose.

I have a project called GIRLS, which I’ve done two years in a row with Red Bull Studios Cape Town.
 It’s predicated on occupying male dominated spaces and at the same time exploring issues that affect and relate to women through the music.

 Then, my other baby, the #womenofhouse project, which seeks to amplify and unify women vocalists and challenge the narrative that excludes the vital contribution of women to House Music.
 I’ve been slacking on the latter but there’s an upcoming project connected to this that will be out this summer hopefully.

#DHLA: What are your earliest recollections of writing and singing your own music?

Jackie: Not actually writing it.
 To this day I don’t write songs, physically.
The ideation process, maybe, but ultimately I create songs in my head while travelling on the train, walking or dancing.

 There’s always movement involved.

We hold you in fairly high regard as not just a singer and songwriter but an artist so we are very curious to find out which artists have influenced you?
Thank you for the kind words.

 All the 90s dance and RnB divas, the powerful voices.

Mary J Blige was the soundtrack to my teen angst. Michael Jackson, significantly because of his reverence and respect for performance as an art.

 Music selection and direction, you know, just really thinking about how a set will play out for maximum effect.

 I must have watched that Bucharest Concert a million times on VHS.
On the home front, Sungura music, the guitars man.

 I’ll never forget one time Simon Chimbetu came to my primary school on a civvies day, we danced like fools! Laughs

 I loved (and still love) Thomas Mapfumo for his writing.

Beyond that I later discovered jazz, which I found to be very soothing.
 For the aches and the injustices.

Cue Nina Simone’s “Mississippi Goddam”.

 I listen to a lot of music so it’s difficult to pin any one person down.
I’m attracted more to the feeling of it.
 That’s what influences me, the feeling.

#DHLA: Who do you make music for? Is it for the "cheese and wine" set that listens to every note and inflection or is it for the partygoers who simply want to wild out on the dance floor or maybe some others?

Jackie: I make music for myself.

#DHLA: Which vocalists (alive and departed)are you in awe off and why?

#Jackie: Issa long ass list some I’ve mentioned already. To add to that, the great Ms Barbara Tucker: the OG Queen of house music.

 With all the respect her stature commands she’s not only fierce, she’s warm, kind and loves people.
 Tamara Wellons for her deeply political and socially conscious work.

The young upstarts Zipho and Sio, they got next.

 Bonj Mpanza of the The City a vocal powerhouse and fire breather!
Peven Everett for his rebelliousness and masterful transitions!

 Modulation never sounded so good.
I have a secret crush on Shota y’all.

 The timbre of his voice is unique for me, and I have it on good authority that he’s a great guy too!

#DHLA: Signing with an established record label is a bit of a "carrot and stick" scenario for Independent artists. "Carrot" in the sense that the headaches of admin are taken away, "stick" in that the artist no longer has 100% artistic control over their work. What "sticks" have kept you in the independent lane?

#Jackie: People! Laughs
 Like just in general, I can’t deal with having to be nice to people if they’re horrible to you and there are a lot of dodgy people in this business.

 Right now I can choose to engage or not and I won’t lose sleep over it.
I can tell people what I think without having to worry about “connections” I don’t care to keep or some flimsy personal brand ting.

What "carrots" would incentivise you to sign with an established label?
The networks: definitely.

 Like, every time I release something I wish it were as easy as flipping a proverbial rolodex and bringing up a number that will get shit done.

#DHLA: Artists invest time, money and above all their souls into their craft. In this age of streaming, piracy and music being viewed almost as being "disposable" how does the music and arts community encourage a culture of buying music, attending concerts and generally just appreciating artists works?

#Jackie: Authenticity and creating a meaningful connection with your fans I think.
 Making an effort to know the people behind the metrics we crave on social media.

I remember when I was growing up I used to be part of fan clubs! Laughs
 You’d get stuff in the mail like posters, birthday messages even.
Those kinds of personalisations where people feel like you’re not just using them to get influencer cheques but you’re actually listening to them.

 At the same time I’ve realised it’s good to create boundaries too because that disposable mentality creates a huge sense of entitlement which can turn quite nasty.

 So, also know when to demand the respect you rightly deserve for the sake of a healthy relationship with your fans.

With such morsels of industry knowledge being dropped left, right and centre, we decided to take a coffee break to "digest" it all.

DHLA: Now that you have mentioned such key relationships, we are reliably informed that you do not have a fulltime manager. Before we email you our CVs, our cousin's cousin's CV and so forth, what do aspiring managers and "minijas" need to know about working with you?

Jackie: I’m at a stage where I’m uncompromising with my vision.
 I’m basically doing what I want to do.
Unless, it’s a miniscule change generally I get what I want or it’s nothing at all.
 So maybe hit me up when I’m a little more malleable! Laughs

DHLA: Given the informed nature of your posts, you are clearly well read. What book/s are you currently reading?

Jackie: I often read at least three books at a time!
 So right now it’s… “The Reactive” by Masande Ntshanga​, which I’m struggling to get in to for some reason, so I think I might park it for a bit, then return to it.

 Valerie Tagwira ’s “The Uncertainty of Hope” which reminds me of home because of the Shona! Laughs
 It’s also, very painful because my heart bleeds for how my homeland has turned out.
I haven’t got to the “hope” part yet, I am looking forward to that.
 I’m also reading a book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron​ based on a 12 week course that unblocks your creativity among other things.

 It’s hinky at the moment because I’m supposed to be writing my morning pages every morning first thing and I keep skipping days, especially after some ugly stuff crops up. Laughs
 But I love it; I like doing introspective things because sometimes I feel like I know very little about myself.

DHLA: How important would you say regular reading is for artists?

Jackie: Super important.
 I can’t stress it enough.

Stay informed, about your rights, industry trends, the world, everything!
 The world needs more artists who think critically for themselves.

DHLA: "Mwanangu" is a song you have said is dedicated to your son Malik. To what extent do you channel personal experiences into your song writing process?

Jackie: To the fullest extent.
 It’s why I’m so attached to all my songs.
By far, motherhood is my greatest influential personal experience.

 I think about my son a lot, what he will feel and think when he plays my music in X amount of years time you know.
 Will it guide him, will it teach him the right things, to love himself and others, to see the world from different angles.
 To fight for justice, believe in the equality of women and to be compassionate.

DHLA: You were part of the facilitators at a song-writing workshop earlier this year. To those artists and non-artists alike who were not fortunate enough to have attended, what are some of the overlooked and underappreciated aspects of songwriting that you would like to share?

Jackie: The difficulty of it, oh!
 It’s so difficult sometimes! Laughs
And that you have to train yourself to do it.
 Like a muscle you have to flex and exercise your songwriting chops, lots of practice and sh*@tty first drafts.
 It doesn’t all come together on the first attempt.
I’ve sat with songs for months.

 I recorded the song “Ushe” in January after having it on my “Work in Progress” playlist for six months I think.
 De Cave Man​ and TonicVolts​ gave up on me and released the instrumental! Laughs
I laugh because it’s not intentional shem, sometimes you have a sliver of a great idea that you can’t seem to coax to completion for a while.

 And the biggest misconception of them all, that you have to do it all yourself.
You can learn a lot from other people.

DHLA:  The issue of using "ghostwriters" remains quite contentious. What's your take?

Jackie: I wish they weren’t called ghostwriters.

DHLA: Then would you ever employ a songwriter dare I say even a team of songwriters to assist you in the creative process?

My friend Shannon Devy​, of Lo-ghost, wrote my first song with Luka Wegodeep​ (No Limit).
 I call upon her whenever I’m blocked for ideas.
Collaboration is a beautiful thing.

 It’s great to get a fresh perspective. I welcome it with open arms.
Relinquishing control is g also good too.

 Unless you’re actively working to cultivate your craft you can get into a rut singing and writing the same way, even if you can’t detect it off the bat it’s there, two or three releases before.

DHLA: "A song has nine lives" is an interesting statement you have posted. Care to elaborate?

Jackie: Well, if you take it within the context of the post I used the quote in I was actually referring to the pressure to pitch my original songs to “established” labels for sales or greater exposure.

 Most of the time on lengthy exclusive deals at the insistence of some of the producers I work with.
 I get why people do this I really do but it seems to be their only preoccupation. Meanwhile a) there’s 9000 ways a song can make money or gain exposure

and b) people are discovering “old” music everyday.
 The way I see it, as long as you have a catalogue you have a gold mine.
You can repurpose it in so many ways.
It’s why all the 90s songs are hooks in every Dance or Ppop song you hear on radio now and why "Superman" is in a Drake hook dahlings! Sharrats to Bucie.
 But most people see their music as having an expiry date.
I don’t.
 My music is for keeps.

The last thing I want when my sh#t pops is for it to all be in the hands of someone else when someone’s going through my back catalogues.
If I could produce too I’d be going for 100% publishing like Wiley! Laughs

DHLA: I am always intrigued by the general difference in how Hiphop artists go about their business as compared to House Music artists. Within a few minutes of meeting a Hiphop emcee they most likely will be on that "fam please check out my Soundcloud" tip that's in addition to dozens of DM'd links, promos and other sorts of "in your face" marketing.
On the other hand House Music artists often have a shy online demeanour seemingly wanting their music to do the "talking". Given this difference in approaches in what ways do you think House Music artists can take their work to a wider audience like Hiphop has done?

Jackie: What I think the Hip-hop guys have grasped very quickly, which house cats are struggling with is innovation, adaptation and cultivation.
 Sonically we’re evolving yes but in terms of creating stimulating, lateral experiences for fans, no.

 And I think this has a lot to do with a heavy reliance on “established” labels, which distribute in high frequencies and can’t or don’t invest in post release strategies or content.
 Hip-hop cats tend to be independent in the full sense of the word and for much longer, most times forever!

 So they’ll do everything themselves.
Cape Town rapper Andy Mkosi’s latest release “The Audio is Visual” is a fantastic example of this.
 The artwork is amazing, the project came with a lyric/photo book, stickers, a poster and soon what are sure to be thought provoking videos.
 It’s meaningful.

And this is someone who is not signed!
 In terms of live performances if you look at what Cassper Nyovest​’s doing, and AKA with his band I mean they are out here showing you they really care what happens when you buy a ticket to their show.

 Culoe De Song​ ’s "Guzu Beats All Night Long" is a great example of this on the House front.

 Conceptually, Hiphop videos are getting more and more interesting, even on small budgets.
 Same with the promo campaigns which are switching the game.
So with every release there’s an adaptation a sort of ramping up with a “what will they do next?”
 In terms of cultivation, I go back to that thing of tending to your garden, your fans.
Many of us like you say expect the music to do the talking via Datafilehost or Traxsource and that’s it.
 I’ve been guilty of this myself but more and more I’m realising the importance of being in touch with people.
 And you see the Hip Hop guys doing this with things like great merchandise for example.
 Fans are literally buying into more than music and that’s how you create loyalty and community.

 It’s not enough to just play 5 shows a night and call it engagement.
Even if it’s a concept, a dream, aspiration, something!
 Make people believe in more than just your talent.

DHLA: Ms Jackie Queens maam  we are going to let you in on a little secret. A few lads we knoware currently in the advanced stages of plotting to sweep you off you feet romantically. Between us and yourself:- Do they stand a chance or another has beaten them to your heart?

Jackie: Hai shem. I’m married to the music.
 True story.

DHLA: Should they insist how best would you advise they go about it since whispers abound that they will employed the old school approach of chocolates, roses etc?

Jackie: I’m looking for a man to bankroll my career so if that ain’t you keep walking! Laughs

DHLA: You come across as a conscious artist and person, in terms of the clarity you have regarding your personal principles. What would you say is your moral compass?

Jackie: I’d say I’m guided by the principle of being good to other people, contributing to a better society, a responsibility to unlearning harmful ideas, practices and behaviours and acting in love.
 This is a very difficult thing to do but I try nonetheless.

DHLA: How do you maintain the balance between staying true to your art, yourself and the need to pay bills?

Jackie: Right now there is no balance, I’m literally going for broke!
 It’s all or nothing baby.

DHLA: "We are not here to be forgotten" said Jackie Queens once upon a time. It might be too early to talk about legacy, then again it's never too early to consider legacy so we must ask, how do you want to be remembered as an artist and person?

Jackie: Ummm…I’d like to be remembered as a loving mother and an artist whose work made the world a better place one project, one song, one lyric, one note at a time.


#JackieQueensDHLAinnerview #DHLAinnerviews #DHLA

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