CHASING DREAMS, THE QUEER SUPERHERO WAY!

Written by Sive Mjindi

 

Let’s talk superheroes! No, I don’t mean the cape and costume-wearing ones who fly around saving babies from burning buildings. Let’s rather talk about the very real heroes, icons and legends in our communities or streets today. What pushes these heroines to rise from civilian to greatness? What drives and shields them from villains while changing the world around them to reflect their mission? The queer community has produced many of these “ordinary heroes” who come in all shapes and sizes to save the world; and with April being a month celebrating freedom in South Africa, we think it’s only fitting to profile some of our own communities’ heroes who work to liberate queer people in their work. 

One such hero is the multi-dimensional, talented actor/presenter, musician, entrepreneur, and filmmaker – Raymond “Mon-D” Motadi, who is a perfect example of what a queer superhero looks like for many in the community. We had the privilege to speak with the 27 year-old star about their new work, and what makes them such a force to be reckoned with both in entertainment as well as his life’s work; and this is what he had to say: 

 

Sive: Tell us a bit about your latest project, the album “Queer Dreams”. What inspired you create, and realise it from concept to creation? 

Mon-D: When I first started the concept, I can tell you it was an inspiration I got after COVID-19. COVID-19 left me in a position where I just felt like if I want to be inspired, I must just go for it. A lot of us had the time to reflect and I was going through such a tumultuous time being hospitalized with the virus; so, when I got out, I decided you know what, I need to make my music. It’s so crazy because the first show I did for television was called Talent on Track. It was a music show and they were looking for musically-inclined presenter and at that time, I had opportunities to be able to do music from that and I rejected those because I didn’t feel that I was ready at that time. So, it took about seven or eight years as well as the pandemic to finally hit. Life is too short, and I realised that I just needed to start my body of work. I didn’t even know what my sound would be like or how the album was going to evolve, but I was just happy at the thought of doing it and turning tragedy into triumph. So, when 2022 came I finally began the process of creating the album.

 

S: What challenges did you have on the journey with such a new venture? Did you have any specific support that really helped you achieve the dream project? 

 

M: I faced significant challenges while creating this album, including housing and financial limitations. However, I had great support from my chosen family, my friends and producers who were willing to collaborate and help realise the project. Despite not having any record label funding or management either, I was able to make the album as an independent artist with the support of my chosen family, who provided both emotional and very practical support. I really owe a lot of the success to them. 

 

S: You’ve done a lot of projects since 2014; tell us a bit about those early days and how they led you to become the person you are today? 

M: My first project was an NPO called Rainbow Kids. I was at university at the time and wanted to find out how to navigate and assist the LGBTQIA+ community on campus. Then I started “Dare to be Queer”, an outreach programme to equip LGBTQIA+ people with resources in my home province Limpopo. Despite limited funding and resources, I pursued these projects because my activist background informs my artistry. It informs and propels me and that’s the source of everything else I am. The knowledge I gained from these projects and collaborations with other artists and activists encouraged me into my current and future work, so I’m very proud of this journey and want to continue helping the LGBTQIA+ community by having a multi-pronged approach to supporting them. 

 

S: So, you have a background in musical theatre, and I want to find out what factors from your training really help you currently set yourself apart. 

M: I credit musical theatre for teaching me how to perform well and hone my skills in presenting, acting and singing. I’m especially grateful for the ability to multi-task and be effectively expressive across different platforms, which is something I was trained in. I also see my theatre background as an invaluable resource and draw inspiration from it. For instance, if you notice on the shoot of “Chomi Ke Mmao”; there’s a sort of vintage creative direction in the production and that’s just a small example of my musical theatre background, coming through and informing me in my work or visually to always represent me. 

 

S: Alright, speaking of representation, how do you uphold your queerness when you are sharing your artistry makes you more vulnerable to being exposed to more audiences (which include mainstream)? 

M: I think for me, being unapologetic is a powerful theme that really keeps me strongly held onto representation. Self-awareness is so important and being unapologetic also helps me to realise that I’m not alone in my lived experience. That I can express myself how I need to, and allow myself the space to attract people who feel the same way or are inspired by it and want to be a part of that experience as well. The only way I feel I’ve upheld that is by being unapologetic and being authentically as who I truly am, because I realised that as much as I notice what other people are doing; the picture I must hold up for myself is uniquely mine and I have to be the one who fulfils it that way. That pours into my individuality and my music. Even when you get to hear this album you will get to hear how I am individualizing myself, but at the same time acknowledging the masses of LGBTQIA+ community in the same music. It’s all to say: “Hey, I’m queer and I’m not afraid to say it and be unapologetic about it.” I believe that representation doesn’t necessarily mean conforming to someone else’s vision but rather being oneself and inspiring others. So, I take pride in being unapologetically queer and hope that my music and life can push a narrative that inspires others to do the same.

 

S: So with representation being such a cornerstone for you, and our society being less than accepting of queer, out individualism; do you feel that you still need to push the envelope even against criticism or perhaps mainstream?  

M: Well mainstream media often obstructs queerness and recognition for queer artists; we should admit that. It’s very unfair that queer artists are supported only after they are recognised globally, but it happens too often. I know digital platforms allow artists to build a support base and be authentic in their identity and artistry, so I focus on that rather than attaining mainstream. I also encourage others to create their projects regardless of mainstream acceptance and to own their queerness as part of their art. 

Sometimes others will try to alter an artist because they are looking for what sells best. That’s why you get a lot of queer artists who are making music but don’t own their queerness and want to distance it from their artistry. I’m saying you can’t because the art itself speaks of you, it’s representative of your identity and ability as well so I find it weird when people try to express their artistry while thinking their queerness may take away from it. It really doesn’t, the two can intermingle and co-exist harmoniously. Absorption into mainstream media is not the enemy, but authenticity should always be validated and represented.

 

S: You mentioned that queerness isn’t always celebrated, however since April is Freedom month, we want to know how you feel we have made advancement towards freedom as queer people in the community? 

M: I believe that there are many challenges facing the LGBTQIA+ community, and progress has been slow due to never-ending socio-political issues. I like to emphasise the importance of language and free expression as a means of liberation, but recognise that there is still a long way to go in terms of language used to address and especially empower queer people. So, I believe that we queer people need to champion our own identity and take power back by being authentic to ourselves. I like to think that’s what I do in my work and life; I see my activism and artistry as a representation of myself and others like me in the community, and I choose to be a beacon for myself and them by simply existing as I am.

 

S: That’s very perceptive, and it shows that you really tap into every part of you holistically to be the artist, activist and queer superhero we know you to be. So, is that why you titled this latest album “Queer Dreams”? 

M: Yes! I initially considered using a vernacular name for the album, but ultimately decided on “Queer Dreams”; it reflects my personal dreams and understanding of queerness. The album is meant to cement queerness in history and showcase the diversity within the queer community, featuring multi-genre songs that comment on the differences and unity among us. I hope to promote the idea that African queerness is unique and needs to be acknowledged and celebrated. I want people to understand that as queers we exist in society, even if that society chooses to ostracise us because of that. That’s a messaging we need to also acknowledge and embrace to truly own our power as queer people. 

 

From creating fantastic shows like the Queer Superhero Show which stimulates and educates audiences, to beginning new ventures that inspire like their debut album titled “Queer Dreams”; it’s no surprise why this icon is a local inspiration for many. By making their dreams a reality against all odds, Mon-D encourages embracing oneself fully as an act of strength and finding freedom in a chosen family or community. We believe that call is one we can all resonate with to perhaps bolden us into being our own everyday superheroes. Who knows? Perhaps that’s the real cape we should all aspire to wear. 

 

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