“So sorry, I’m so hungover”, Langa so candidly begins the interview. The rays from the south African sunshine reflect wildly off of his blacked-out aviator glasses he uses to hide the turn up and one shot too many from the night before. “I posted on my close friend’s story, like I’m done drinking but come Friday"… It’s these moments of drunkenness, turn ups, highs and comedowns which birthed his debut single Panther and the entire album. “I wrote Panther at 5am, coming back from the club. I was in a black jaguar, hence the name Panther, with some friends of mine and I was just like, man, we’ve been here since yesterday, why are we doing this to ourselves? And I felt very similar to how I’m feeling today; regretting the decisions of yesterday. There’s no love at the bottom of the bottle and I had to do the internal work”. Panther is littered with feeling of regret, but also that of closure and progress. The middle 8, where a drudgey bassline is the only thing accompanying Langa’s croon, is the song’s melodic apex and the point at which he seems to find the most clarity.
His self-titled debut album centers around the 3 phases of his heartbreak; sad, turning up and healing. “I moved from Cape Town to Joburg for this guy I was seeing. We moved for his television career but then when we got here (Joburg), he started wylin, cheating”. He details how the cheating rocked him and sent him down a spiral of doubting his self-worth and finding new people to get over his ex. Langa explains how his social media wasn’t a real depiction of his realities at that time; “I was trying to fill that void with people and likes with the illusion of a lifestyle that looks amazing. When I felt my worst, my Instagram has always looked the best”. And in one sentence, Langa summarized the dual-life of many millennials and Gen-Zs.
Panther, like nearly a third of his debut album, was produced by duo Noble who recently collaborated with Beyoncé on The Lion King: The Gift and produced Find Your Way Back. Langa and the Noble duo studied at the South African College of music where he was studying jazz performance for the piano. When asked about whether his time at music college helped him as an artist, he’s on the fence. “It helps me articulate my ideas really quickly, I’ve learnt the language to express how I’m feeling inside. I can come into a studio session and say I want - this chord, that chord, dissonance here, a flat 5th”. In a time where an ever-growing number of successful artists and producers don’t play an instrument or never studied music, it almost questions the necessity of music school being a path for successful artist. Above all, Langa values the community it gave him. "It helped surround me with people who are like minded, if I wanted a small orchestra, a jazz ensemble, I have friends I can call for that. One of the most important things about going to music school is that it helps you build a community”.
Speaking to Langa is refreshing and eye-opening. He’s multifaceted and sees the world in through a global lens and in a nuanced way. Between living in the suburbs and visiting his grandmother and other family in the township, Langa mastered the art of code-switching. “I only spoke Zulu at home and English at school”. Despite navigating two polarized worlds, Langa never felt his South African side diminished, “I know my lineage so well. I can stand in my backyard and tell you where my great grandparents have been buried. That’s the beauty of the duality of existing in this space; I’m able to be cosmopolitan, and cool, and young, and a citizen of the world but I’m still deeply rooted in my African traditions and culture".
Langa was born in 94, right after apartheid stopped. Hope filled the hearts of black South Africans nationwide. But 26 years later, South Africa is deeply segregated and he feels no tangible progress has been made. He details how there is still “no real wealth amongst black people yet”, redistribution of land must occur and a decolonisation of the curriculum is paramount; “I spent one week at jazz school studying South African music and never learnt once about what happened in Rwanda or Congo”.
Langa drew a lot of his inspiration for his debut album from artists he grew up listening to; the likes of Maxwell, India Arie, D’Angelo and Beyonce, who inspired a lot of his bridges and ballads. South Africa’s most exported sound is gqom, a subgenre of house, but Langa’s sound stays clear of that "it’s (gqom) is an honest portrayal of life in the township, I’ve spent a lot time there but it’s not my true experience, it would be inauthentic”. Langa’s album is an authentic portrayal of his life experiences: a kid who grew up in the suburbs, spent most of his teenage years on tumblr and pens songs about his life experience. As our time together comes to a close, I ask Langa what he wants people to take away from his album “I want people to have a broader idea of who I am as a person. To learn that love doesn’t end, it transforms. And I want people to live, like, live live. Go to the club, do what you want. Feel, grieve and heal from it all so you can make space for new things”.
Panther, his new single is available on all streaming platforms now.