Essentials: Joda Kgosi’s ‘Sour Milk’ digs into an expired love
Essentials: Joda Kgosi’s ‘Sour Milk’ digs into an expired love

Essentials: Joda Kgosi’s ‘Sour Milk’ digs into an expired love

A consolidation and expansion of the traits that brought her initial attention

The R&B soil in South Africa is fertile. Every so often, undeniably talented singers begin to garner attention with their own relatable iterations of contemporary R&B trends—and it’s even more refreshing that this mini-renaissance is being led by women. Last year, Johannesburg-based singer, Joda Kgosi caught many ears and struck many hearts with her official sophomore single, “Truth Is,” goodbye and good riddance missive to a former love interest sung in balmy low tones over airy production with rhythmic Afro-Cuban elements.

Combined with “Lunatic,” her similar-minded—even more caustic—debut single, Joda established her nascent singing abilities and preference for writing along emotive lines. Sour Milk, her newly released debut EP, expands further on the characteristics that made the singer’s initial output so captivating. It’s a concept project going through some of the emotions that comes with introspecting at the end of a romantic entanglement. Taking advantage of the broader nuance afforded by bodies of work, she traces the fissures from this sort of situation with a more expansive approach, going beyond the snappiness her previous two singles prioritised.

Romance, as an omnipresent part of the human condition, has never really been simple. In music, Eros love and its attendant emotions is the most sung about topic, and as art always does it reflects our attitude towards these feelings. Romantic relationships have only gotten more complicated over time, which means break-ups have gotten more complicated over time. Sour Milk is an acknowledgement of this trend, and even if it’s far from being topically novel, it’s a project made by an artist who’s coming of age as part of a generation conversant with complicatedness.

Where millennials and even Gen Zers born in the ‘90s remember and have an affinity for the love-struck outlook that dominated R&B music from that time, Joda—who’ 18-years old—and her peers are much more attuned with R&B mulling over the complexities of romance in a world where connections are digitally influenced. She wasn’t even in her teens when Drake aptly proclaimed that we were in a noncommittal era. While these temporal circumstances provide context and allow for a stronger appreciation, Sour Milk is a captivating front-to-back listen even solely based on its execution.

Very often, projects centred on break-ups tend to mirror the Kubler-Ross model of the five stages of grief, starting off in denial and ending with an optimistic acceptance. On her debut, Joda leans into this trope as much as she subverts it, a tacit statement that situations like this might be linear but they are from simple. “Welcome to my pity party, where I cry about a boy who don’t care about me,” she sings on opening song “Pity Party,” where she’s dazed, annoyed and slightly confused, instead of being in denial. It reveals a sense of self-awareness that pervades the entire EP, giving her full agency even while she’s going through the motions.

On its title track, she tracks the deterioration of the relationship, from rosy times where they shared bathroom products and spent intimate moments with opposing families, to its sober ending. “In a room full of art, I’d still stare at the art/’cos I know for a fact, the art won’t break my heart,” she sings at the top of the second verse, using a popular reference many young people will get immediately. Joda’s writing is expressive enough to make listeners comfortably identify her as the protagonist in this story, but she doesn’t just go at the other party, she also puts herself in-between the crosshairs. On “How Dare You,” the singer kinda takes responsibility for catching feelings even though her interest was visibly lukewarm and always left room for emotional ambiguity.

For the most part, Sour Milk prioritises the sort of vocal control common in today’s vibe-centric, post-Trapsoul R&B terrain. Over slow-thumping basslines that complement moody keys, Joda often locks into a wispy and conversational melody, which is automatically fitting for her earthy voice and evokes the image of journaling yourself to sleep at night through tears. She expands that form a few times on the EP, especially on songs not expressly directed at her (sort of) ex. For “How Dare You,” which takes sonic cues from the ‘90s-pioneered Hip-Hop Soul, she reaches down for a guttural bellow that listens more like self-berating while staring back at yourself in a mirror.

By the groovy snap of the penultimate song, “Empty Sinner,” her melodies are much looser, catchy even, expressive of her readiness to welcome those feelings back if there’s an assurance of reciprocity. In addition to diversifying her delivery in real-time, Sour Milk represents Joda’s preternatural ability at synthesising real-life events into relatable, well-crafted music.

Listen to Sour Milk here.

[Featured Image Credits: Instagram/jodakgosi]

@dennisadepeter is a staff writer at the NATIVE.