Zahara’s first DVD releases this week. The Beginning is a live recording of her June concert held at Carnival City. Therese Owen was given an exclusive viewing of the video with the singer. It was also the first time this multi-platinum artist had seen the DVD.
When Zahara became an overnight sensation, the owner of an independent record company muttered that it couldn’t have happened to nicer people. This was in reference to her label, TS Records.
Many people still believe she is an innocent rural girl getting shafted by her record company. The reality, however, is that most recording labels shaft their artists. It goes together, like bacon and eggs, politics and corruption.
Zahara, however, does not believe that and refuses to be a victim.
When the tabloid story came out, she says, it was the worst two weeks of her life.
“It was humiliating, not just for me, but for the people who live there. I grew up in two shacks and there were eight of us. My dad would wait until he got his bonus and then buy 100 bricks and then another year and another 100 bricks. That story disrespected my father by saying he is not a hard worker. I built another house for my parents.
“And besides, why should anyone want to know my contract? I don’t know my sister’s work contract.
“You know, I thought when it came it would be something like ‘Zahara has a boyfriend’, but not that.”
The story appeared two weeks before Zahara broke all records at the MTN Samas by winning eight awards.
“I received them two days ago,” she smiles as she shows me a picture of her holding them.
“I am sitting down because there is no ways I could stand and hold them. It was amazing.
“Think about it – eight Samas and my first album. I don’t think I could break that record again.
“My life has been so hectic over the last year. I released the album on August 29 and then there was the festive season and then there were the Samas and now the concerts at Carnival City. Oh, and also performing for Tata Mandela at his feet. After I finished performing he clapped his hands and said I was a special child.”
There were two sold out-shows at Carnival City. What stood out at the concerts was, firstly, how many women were present and how much they love Zahara.
Secondly, the young woman is really talented. She is confident and focused on stage. In-between singing passionately she is personable and natural in conversing with her audience, and also humble.
She is making music not to be a superstar, but because she can and for the love of music.
“I write songs to inspire people. I am not that kind of artist who is in search of a hit.”
The DVD features the Soweto Gospel Choir, an orchestra and Zahara’s band. It also has a special guest appearance by Leroy Bell, the 60-year-old singer discovered via The X Factor.
“Oh, he has so much swag. Those skinny jeans and those tattoos up his arm!”
Watching the video with Zahara was revealing. She looked at herself intently. And when Loliwe came on the energy in the room changed. The normally chatty singer didn’t say a word. She was not aware of anything else in the room aside from watching herself perform.
Afterwards she looks shellshocked.
“You have no idea how I feel. I feel so small that I could gather those thousands of people. It’s like a dream. You always fantasise about thousands of people watching you. When I was growing up I never wanted to be just a dreamer, I wanted to be an achiever.”
As the DVD progresses she is in awe of the lighting, which comes across spectacularly on camera. At one stage she even has Comrade Zwelinzima Vavi on his feet.
Riot also makes an appearance with his hit song, Theta Nami, which she penned for him.
“My producers, Mjakes and Robbie Malinga, were pestering me to write a song for Riot. I eventually wrote it at 7.30am and was in studio by 8am. I write all the time. I think of a word and break it down.
“I wrote Loliwe with a five-string guitar. I guess my voice helped with that. I write my songs in a book. Loliwe came from a scrap book. I am actually going to frame that book.”
In terms of her next album Zahara is not fazed.
“I have a new book of songs. I have new experiences in my life.
“Do you know, I can’t bring myself to write love songs? I can’t and actually I don’t want to.
“When the concerts were recorded I wished I was two people. I wanted to be in the audience as well as on stage. Even if people see me in a shopping mall and they start crying I want to get inside their heads.”
When the big hit, Lengoma, comes on she chuckles as she watches DJ S’bu on the decks.
“There is some point where I did a song for 11 minutes. My band wanted to kill me: ‘Zahara! Eleven minutes!’”
She does a brilliant version of Vulindlela which could only be topped by Brenda Fassie herself.
“This is so amazing. I feel like I am watching someone else’s DVD.”
It is exactly a year today that her debut album was released and in that time her life has totally changed. She plays up to six gigs a week and wakes up at 5.30am every morning.
“I am busy every day and still find the time to write songs.”
There are two new songs on the DVD and they are strong tracks. Many believe that Zahara won’t top the success of her debut album. How can she top eight Samas and supposedly a few hundred thousand sales of the album?
But then again, there were so many rumours doing the rounds about TS Records and just exactly how many CDs were sold, and indeed, just exactly how they were sold.
That aside, the burning issue around Zahara is her second album and whether she has the ability to write better material.
However, she is not fazed by all that pressure. She is simply doing what comes naturally – writing and performing songs. And she does it very, very well.
• Zahara – The Beginning releases this week in all reputable music stores.