As an artist, Moha embodies a genuine balance of classic introvert/extrovert tendencies. As a human being, Moha is an alluring anomaly. On the first sweltering day in New York City, we soaked up some sun on a park bench in Tompkin’s Square Park and talked about everything from bilingual lyricism to African parents, unicorn human beings, pop culture and Blinky Bill.
WGN: Were you raised in The States?
MOHA: I was raised really equally between The States, Senegal and Paris, so I was back and forth between these places through my life. I moved here about maybe 4 years ago now. I just needed a change of scenery.
WGN: Where were you before?
MOHA: Paris. I went to school in Paris and started playing there… At some point I didn’t see any growth per say happening in Paris, mainly because I sing in English and Wolof so I thought that New York would be a cool place to come, because it’s so dense and then you can meet people very fast. All you have to do is be willing to hustle and grind.
WGN: So when you came here did you have a concrete plan or was it more on a whim? Staying with a friend? I know people have very different ways off coming into the city.
MOHA: No, I literally just bought a ticket and left the next day and was like – I’ll figure it out when I’m there. I packed my guitar and left all my clothes and everything there…. I was like, I can just start playing and I’ll meet people eventually and it’ll lead to something. I don’t know, I’m very spontaneous.
WGN: So from moving to New York on a whim and then meeting your manager… What happened in between to make that happen?
MOHA: When I moved here I started doing open mics. And I was at an open mic that I met this girl was scouting for talent for these parties they do on a rooftop where they have these musicians come and play. And I went there and played and the guy who was organizing it happened to be someone who knows Anthony. So, he invited me back again and told Anthony he needed to come check out this kid Moha, who just moved here. Anthony came, I played, we talked and we just became friends from there on.
WGN: Was finding someone to help you on the business end something you were actively pursuing or had tried before?
MOHA: I have tried before. I’ve had multiple industry music managers, but it wasn’t the right fit for me, because for me it’s very family oriented and I have to 100 trust you. Because, everything I say in my songs is my life so… In real life, I’m very introverted, so that’s the only way I can actually say what I mean… that I can release, without being afraid about how it will be perceived. (In music) people move to the beat or the music and this is my opportunity to say everything. So, it was very important for me to find someone I could be friends with – like really friends, like almost like brothers – and whom I can trust along with myself about where I’m headed, what’s the right play to make, etc…
WGN: Coming from such a multi cultural background, how much would you say which culture has influenced your music? Does it feel like there’s a portion of it that’s more from Paris or more from Senegal?
MOHA: That’s very interesting… I would say, right now it’s definitely more Senegal, you know because – that’s my home. I feel a thousand percent Senegalese and nothing else. However, I’ve been living away from Senegal for some long and so on my day to day life, I’m moreso inclined to look at what’s happening in my country and Africa in general and then obviously my music is going to lean toward that – even though I don’t spend too much time listening to the music. But I feel it’s just within me, so I would say Senegalese has the most influence in me. Ok, I would say pop culture is also real for me, yes. But I’m really trying to portray who I am and who I am is a kid from Senegal who lives in the U.S.
WGN: That’s interesting, because during the second half of your live set when you sing in your native language, it almost felt like it affected the way you were playing the music. Like, the music itself took on another character by you just switching languages. Is that intentional? Do you feel it?
MOHA: Yeah yeah yeah, definitely. At that part of my part for me – that’s why I play it last – because the way I see it, I feel like “OK, I can do all the western music per say, but now it’s actually time for you to come with me… And this is how we do this where I’m from.
WGN: That makes sense. And then the brand new song you played that was in the middle of your set right before you switched over to Wolof, sounded like it was a bridge between the more purely English speaking music and the native language music. It felt like it was a fusion of those. Do you feel like you’re actively experimenting in the space of trying to find a version where both sounds are embodied in the same music?
MOHA: Exactly. Definitely. This project that I’m working on, that’s the mindset. Because even though I consider myself a thousand percent Senegalese, it would be ungrateful to neglect everything this has brought me. You know, I’m a product of here at the same time. And for a while, I was trying to find a balance between the two and I think I found this in this project… It’s really designed that way for me, it’s a middle ground between African music and American/European pop culture music…
WGN: What pop culture has affected you? It’s interesting to see which Pop culture icons stick with which people who grow up in multi cultural backgrounds?
MOHA: This is going to be hard for me to answer, because actually… none. I have an interesting dynamic with music because I wasn’t really listening to music growing up. I was a kid who was isolated, going to school and coming back… which is funny because my parents tried to shield me as much as possible from music. I mean – you live in Kenya, so you know – in these kinds of countries, the gateway to living a better life is education – but then, now here I am. I pursued it. I finished school and everything – which I’m happy I did, because it taught me so much. But… (re: Pop Culture) I’ve surprised my self now, because a song will be playing and I’ll be like “Who’s this?” and everyone’s like “YOU DON’T KNOW THIS?” …and I don’t!
WGN: Some musicians have this story, too. They don’t really remember listening to music before a certain point and then it becomes their whole life. What was that shift like for you?
MOHA: What happened was I was in Paris… I had been writing all these thoughts since I was maybe 14 and then I woke up in Paris one day and I just thought – I want to learn to play the guitar. I walked down to the store and bought one. I came back and tried to figure it out. And as I was playing really poorly, I was writing a song with it the next day and it just developed like that, really organically and naturally without me even looking. More, letting it find me. I started realizing, OK… the better I was playing, the more the notes were resonating with me. And I was hearing and seeing words, so all I had to do was just whatever I’m hearing and seeing while I’m playing these chords. Just write them down and it became songs.
WGN: Was your family supportive in any capacity?
MOHA: Not at all.
WGN: Talk about that! Talking about that always feel so important when it’s within African families because being an artist can sometimes be seen as disgraceful and offensive as someone coming out as gay or marrying outside of your culture and artists have to really fight.
MOHA: Oh yeah. To this day, my parents have never heard my music. They’ve never seen me play, they’ve never heard my music. Now, they accept it, because you know – I’m making a living out of it, I take care of myself. But I’m sure if it was up to them, I would be doing something complete different. So with my dad, the deal with him was to finish school. And I was like, OK I finished school. The next day after graduation, he was like – “What are you gonna do?” And I said: “Play music.” And it’s still a little bit rough at times. He tries to remind me, “You went to school for this for this many years…” And I’m like, “No, this is what I need to do.” We’ll see, twenty years from now. But for now, this is what’s happening. I think, little by little they understand my stubbornness. So they’re like, “Woah, there’s nothing we can do.” So I guess, they’re not supporting but they’re not holding me back – which they have the right not to accept or want things out of their kid, because everyone parents the way they want to. But at the same time, I’m grateful that they’re not making it hard to do music, because I don’t think I would be able to sustain that, going against my parents for a long time knowing that it pains them. So yeah, but… No, it wasn’t easy.
WGN: Your upcoming project sounds exciting. Is it a whole album? What’s the plan with this music.?
MOHA: I think for this project I made probably like, 30 songs. I’m trying to tell a story. For me, you know I really conceptualize things. So, I’m just going to piece them together. Right now, I’m going release the EP and right after the release of the EP, tour it and then release the album fully by the end of the year. That’s the plan, so… God willing it’ll happen.
WGN: Was the band you played with most recently the band you consistently play with all the time?
MOHA: The band you saw me play with is a smaller version of the band, because the idea for that show was really to make an intimate show. I’ve been stuck in the studio for so long and anyone who knows me, knows – I’m a live guy. So, I needed to get out and play one small show and then go back into the studio.
WGN: Your trombone player is crazy. He’s so crazy good.
MOHA: He’s incredible.
WGN: He’s a unicorn musician.
MOHA: And a unicorn human being. He’s an incredible guy. I’m grateful to have him by my side and he contributes so much to the live aspect of it.
WGN: That’s everything. New York can be a really social city for some people and for other people, a really social city. Do you feel like you have a supportive network around you that encourages you to be the artist you want to be?
MOHA: Yeah, definitely. Thankfully, everyone here that I meet, that hears me play and is nice enough to give me their time – they’re all very very supportive and they all do their best at their level to help me move forward. So, I can’t ask for more. Yes, so far the city’s been really really good to me.
WGN: Any ambitions to play the music in Senegal?
MOHA: Yes, I’m actually going to be there in September. We’re working on confirming the dates now, but I should be both in Europe and Africa in September. It’ll be good. It’ll be my first time playing in Senegal, so…
WGN: Wow, that’s amazing.
MOHA: Yeah yeah yeah. So, that’s gonna be quite something. Hopefully, my parents can come see what I’m working on and doing on a daily basis. I also want to come to Kenya though… I met an amazing, amazing, amazing artist from Kenya last summer here… Blinky Bill.
WGN: Yo! Seriously? Woah, that’s wild. Blinky is a good friend. He’s the bro for real.
MOHA: I met him last summer, here in NY… Really, really cool guy amazing music
WGN: He’s really a pioneer over there. The music he was playing would never have been played on the radio before. He broke that first barrier and a lot flooded in after that.
MOHA: Yeah, no – I feel like even today Blinky is still years ahead of a lot of people.
WGN: He is, he’s a futurist by nature.
MOHA: Yeah, amazing. So, I’m really looking forward to actually sharing with him.
WGN: So cool. And there are other people in his creative tribe who you should connect with when you come out to Kenya. Make sure to let us know, so you find your peoples when that time comes.
MOHA: Yeah? Wow, yes. Amazing.