Vision: Freshlyground’s Peter Cohen, Zolani Mahola, Simon Attwell, Chris Bakalanga, Julio Sigauque and Josh Hawks.  Picture: Jonx Pillemer

Freshlyground was formed in 2002 - as an Afrofusion start-up by twenty-something students who wanted to make engaging music, and have fun. Sixteen years later, lead singer Zolani Mahola says they are still having fun - making music to foster a sense of connection and belonging in our nation.

The band has released a new album, Can’t Stop, and its single Blck Girls is receiving considerable radio play.

Blck Girls was inspired by Mahola’s “experience of growing up in Port Elizabeth and dealing with the notion that some chores were reserved ‘only for girls’ and that she was being urged to fit in a so-called construct of being a good, ‘normal’ black South African girl.

Mahola was 21 when she was invited to join Freshlyground. She is now 36 and the mother of two. In her third year of drama studies at UCT, she ditched varsity to go on the road with the band.

A decade-and-a-half later, Mahola, Cohen and Simon Attwell remain from the band’s first incarnation. They have since been joined by Julio Sigauque, Josh Hawks and Chris Bakalanga. Robyn chats to Mahola. 

Did you study music as a child? I sang while I was washing the dishes, but I didn’t have music lessons or anything. What I did have was a variety of communal spaces where singing played a central role. I learnt to harmonise in church and in traditional Xhosa ceremonies at home. I loved listening to Motown when I was growing up, and to Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Brenda Fassie, Mercy Phakela, Splash, Oyaba and a host of incredible artists in the black market in the 80s and 90s. I also loved listening to Nirvana, Springbok Nude Girls, The Offspring, Pearl Jam and a whole list of alternative music - that I was told in one way or another, that I shouldn’t be listening to.

Freshlyground has continued playing its hit songs - but developing innovative new work - and collaborating with other artists, such as the electrifying concert last March at Spier with Sipho Hotstix Mabuse? Yes, it was a huge pleasure working with Bra Sipho and we’ve had the honour of collaborating with other great African artists such as Vusi Mahlasela and Oliver Mtukudzi. We’ve opened stages for Robbie Williams - great crowds, but not much interaction with him - and BB King, with whom it was a tremendous pleasure all round.

What’s next - an international tour for Freshlyground? Yes, we head into the European summer with shows in parts of Germany, Holland, Switzerland and Finland this month. Our strength has always been live performances.

We are playing weekly live sessions on these pages, and it’s a time where we interact with our followers and take requests as well. It’s a great way to stay in touch with our fans all over the world.

* Can’t Stop is available on iTunes.