“I firmly believe that I was put on earth to do this – that I was born to do this.”
WORDS: DAN CHARLES
PHOTOGRAPHY: OLIVER KRUGER
Angel-Ho is an artist assured of their own destiny. Over the past four years, the sonic and stylistic savant (born Angelo Valerio) has managed to build a global following out of their explorations of concepts revolving around classism, identity and gender through an amalgamation of their unrelentingly experimental electronic music and glamorous sense of style and couture. However, with plans to release their debut album later this year, Angel-Ho is looking to enter the next phase of their career: that of becoming a pop icon.
Unfortunately, Angelo is unable to discuss much about the album in great detail at this stage as it’s still in the middle of production. What they can disclose about the album is that it will be released through the esteemed London-based electronic record label Hyperdub, and that the body of work will be a celebration of pop music and will also serve as a continuation to their previous works that have explored the sense of pain and pride within queer identity.
“I feel like queer voices need to be heard – we need to speak our truths while we’re here. What made me start working on this album was the idea for me to build a legacy that I want to leave behind for queer and trans youth because that’s how I got my education – through music, performance and art.”
Despite having abandoned their formal studies in fine art after committing four years to a tertiary institution, Angelo still sees themself as an academic – only now, they relish being able to determine their own curriculum in pursuit of strengthening their true artistic ability.
“I left university because it was becoming such a toxic place for me to grow and learn so instead, I chose to continue my practice in studio. My experience at university felt very contrived – I had to be with people that came from roots that I came from and that have experiences that I’ve also shared. It’s important to me to be with my community.”
If the album that Angelo is working on intends to celebrate pop music – a prime source of their education and development – then it can surely also be seen as an acknowledgement of those who have mentored them and have helped point them towards their artistic true north. The first two people that come to mind are Angelo’s mother (who raised them as a single parent and has been a constant driving force behind their work) and acclaimed performance artist Athi-Patra Ruga, who taught Angelo the discipline required to become a sustainable artist.
“In Cape Town and South Africa, even though the arts are not really frowned upon by a lot of people, it’s something that I feel people don’t really appreciate or consider as something that can be lucrative – especially for young kids who are trying to find their way and have an interest in art and have talent. My main motivation is to be a teacher – knowledge is supposed to be shared and should be accessible at any age.”
As their prominence within popular culture continues to escalate, Angelo is ready to accept the responsibility that comes with being an artist of significant influence. If the aim of art is to inspire then Angelo seeks to become something of a muse to aspiring creatives much like the artists that have inspired them to pursue their current path.
“A pivotal point for me was seeing Lady Gaga perform live – seeing that standard of performance and craftsmanship. That’s the kind of attention to detail that I aim to bring with my shows and that I will bring throughout my entire career.”
Angelo relishes in the extravagance of a live performance. The live shows that they are preparing in the wake of their album’s release aim to surpass the oftentimes lacklustre standard of live performances within South Africa, by meticulously showcasing Angelo’s vision through a spectacle of music, movement and fashion.
“My aesthetic is rooted in performance and being on stage and giving a show. I love fashion and what it can do with music and performance. It ties everything together and it speaks to everything that I’m doing. Growing up, I was primarily interested in visual arts and fashion because of my insecurity in thinking that I couldn’t perform. And then I started performing and realized: ‘Shit, I’m made for this!’”
The crux of the lesson that Angelo wishes to teach us with this new album – and has already been teaching us throughout their previous work – is that there is power in speaking your own truth. By believing in their artistry and never compromising in any facet of it, Angelo has paved their own way towards becoming arguably one of the most significant voices to come out of Cape Town. And this is done, not only to have their story heard, but also to inspire the next generation of artists to be unashamed of wanting to fulfil their own dreams in the same way.
“The world does not tell you that you have to dress in a certain way. The world would like you to, but you don’t have to conform to anyone’s rules. You just do what you have to do – with respect to yourself and others.”
When speaking with Angelo about their art and approach to performance, I’m reminded of a scene in the semi-fictitious Nick Cave documentary 20,000 Days on Earth, where the British actor Ray Winstone asks the famously grim singer-songwriter whether he still enjoys performing live, to which he responds: “I live for it. It’s really, in that moment, where I can get to be that person that I’ve always wanted to be.”
Arguably, Angelo has never needed to be on stage to become that person. Perhaps it’s really us that need to see Angel-Ho on stage so that we can see for ourselves how also to become the person that we really want to be.
“I want people to feel like they can let go of their insecurities and find their freedom during a forty-minute set and to know that I am there to entertain them.”
INFO: INSTAGRAM @angel_h0