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Image courtesy Toya Delazy

toya delazy is the newest powerpuff girl and a real-life pop princess

Amira Rasool

The South African musician discusses her forthcoming album and her role as Bliss, the fourth Powerpuff Girl.

Image courtesy Toya Delazy

Early last year when Cartoon Network announced that it was gearing up to release a Powerpuff Girls reboot, 90s babies around the world celebrated Blossom, Buttercup, and Bubbles's heroic return. Among those enthusiastic fans was Toya Delazy, the 27-year-old KwaZulu-Natal-born pop singer-songwriter and rapper. Like many of us, as a child, she had found solace in long, uninterrupted sessions of Saturday morning cartoon viewing.

But Delazy's excitement for the animated series's revival surpassed casual nostalgia. Because Cartoon Network had commissioned the musician to produce an official remake of the classic theme song, and later lend her vocals to Bliss, a new fourth member of the crime-fighting family. Delazy voices Bliss in the version of The Powerpuff Girls: The Power of Four that airs across Africa.

Bliss is a teenager at the start of the new five-part movie series, returning home from a self-imposed exile to rejoin her family and the heroine business. She has brown skin, long blue hair, and purple eyes. Her confident stylings and colorful personality, in fact, are not far from what audiences have come to expect from Delazy. Her first two albums, Due Drop (2012) and Ascension (2014), released under Sony Music Africa, introduced fans to a sound that she calls "jazz-electro-hip-hop." It's a description that neatly encompasses her background as both a jazz musician and also a skilled hip-hop lyricist intent on spreading self-love, positivity, and African pride.

Delazy's role as the newest Powerpuff Girl perfectly compliments her project to empower women through her music. She draws inspiration from musicians like Nina Simone and Lauryn Hill, as well as her own famous great grandmother, the musician and Zulu princess Magogo kaDinuzulu. Her affinity and respect for game-changing women has driven her to innovate, and helped her reimagine what it means to be a contemporary female pop singer and hip-hop artist. Delazy currently lives in London, where she moved two years ago to work on her forthcoming album, Uncommodified. It's been a period of transition and growth, she says. One that hopefully leads to musical and personal bliss.

What did The Powerpuff Girls mean to you growing up?
For me, it was so cool because it was chicks kicking butt. There was nothing like that on TV. It's nice to see girls being powerful. And of course there was a tomboy so I was like, "Okay, these are my people." I just knew there was an avenue for me in life. Being that young it was very encouraging to see girls being heroes. I really loved it.

How would you compare the original series to the new one?
It's different, now there's four. It's a whole new dynamic and the storyline is very interesting. It's kind of like they caught us where we left off as kids because now the girls are grown as well and the jokes are getting a bit more relatable. It's not like they are talking to 10-year-olds. I like how they've managed to keep the fun but still make it grow up a bit. I think that's what Bliss brings; [her arrival] is such a curve ball. I don't think anyone saw it coming. It definitely brings you into her journey, reintegrating into her family, getting to know her sisters.

How does your background in classical music influence your music today?
It taught me strictness. It's crazy because I did classical and I thought I knew the keys but I went for my audition at school and I failed. I failed my first year actually. I didn't think that would happen but it was because of the strictness that classical teaches. You're playing the same songs, in the same way they were played back in the day, and you've got to play them with the same energy. It taught me that at least. But thank god for jazz. I think what really made me find myself as my own artist was when I learned jazz and it taught me the freedom within the rules. Keys to me basically helped mold my verses and kind of helps me build a song. It all starts off from keys. Classical taught me structure and jazz taught me rebellion.

How has growing up as a Zulu princess affected your music, especially as the granddaughter of classical Zulu music composer Princess Magogo?
My great grandmother has always been my inspiration because she was the first indigenous female praise singer. Historically, praise singing was only reserved for men in the Zulu culture. She broke those gender roles and she became a praise singer. Knowing that she did that, and understanding what that meant at the time, has always inspired me. I don't use the royalty for just flashing, it's a bigger role than that. It's influencing a whole nation of girls, of Zulu girls like me, that come from the countryside, that sometimes maybe think, "I'm just going to wait for someone to bring them cows home and I'm going to get married and push babies." It could be that narrative, but just that inspiration from Princess Magogo made me realize life can be a lot more and it has been.

Tell us about your new single "Look At God."
It's about all these crazy beautiful moments that happen that honestly just make you want to say, "Look at God." Basically it's about seeing beauty through other people's eyes. I think all of us have those moments where we know something great happens and we just feel like it's divine intervention or something along those lines. But the funny thing about the song is I may not be talking about, you know, a guy in the sky. I see people as God. Everyone making moves, making things that are beautiful, that bring happiness into other people's hearts. It's those moments that I'm talking about. Instead of looking into the sky, looking into ourselves.

How is the new album different from your last two?
The first one, Due Drop, was literally when I first burst onto the scene. I was just puppy-eyed and bushy-tailed. During my second album, Ascension, life got real. Things weren't going well with my Sony Music Africa deal; it was more of a protest album. I was starting to realize the cracks in so-called fame. It was very protest; I was angry and trying to heal. With the third album, I've come into my own zone now. I know who I am, I'm not pointing fingers around. It's literally just me as an artist now and what this music means to me, my experiences, my stories. It's way more wholesome. I feel like the last two albums have finally made me into the artist that I've constantly been building up to be. This is the real, most true picture of me as an artist.

What sonic changes can we expect?
There are lots of minimal sounds. I've always had this problem of liking a lot of different things and I think it drove some of my team crazy, they were like, "Toya, just pick one, you can't do it all." I don't feel like an album needs to be the same sound all the way through. I feel like I can mix with the songs that I like while still staying true to myself and my artistry. I'm definitely also going to be singing in my native language, Zulu, on some of the songs. Since I produce as well, I produced most of the songs on the album and also worked with different producers in France and in London.

Toya Delazy stars as Bliss on Cartoon Network's "The Powerpuff Girls: The Power of Four," a five-part special. Her new album "Uncommodified" is set to be released this month.