Zonke Dikana, Nathi, Black Coffee, Emtee and Riky Rick, have the most nominations at the 22nd South African Music Awards (Samas).
With four nods per act, these artists have cemented themselves as the ones who had most people’s ears in the past year. Whether they kept them or not will be determined at the Sama ceremony in Durban this Saturday.
Zonke, as she is simply known, released her newest album, Work of Heart, to critical acclaim. With this being her third studio offering, the singer, songwriter and producer is still surprised at the recognition she receives.
“You always say to yourself: ‘Wow, I do something that people recognise as good work’. Even after all these years, you don’t get used to being nominated because each album is different. You’re just happy that people can relate to you,” she tells me.
The Reach It singer has been nominated in the following categories: Best R&B/Soul/ Reggae Album, Best Produced Album, Best Engineered Album and Female Artist of the Year. I ask her which category means the most to her. “Definitely the Best produced Album,” she almost squeals, “because it was produced by me.
“All my albums are produced by me,” she continues. “I’m thrilled about that one because it says a lot about my production skills. There aren’t a lot of females who sing, write and compose their own work. Unless they haven’t been forthcoming about their skills or been talked about that much.”
Throughout the years, Zonke has made a name for herself as one of the most-sought- after acts at festivals. She performs regularly, her albums and DVDs sell well – even without her going to every event including the opening of an envelope. But she admits that she had to adjust to certain things after she released Work of Heart.
She explains: “I was never worried that people wouldn’t get me, but I certainly didn’t anticipate people picking up that the album is in English and then comparing it to the Ina Ethe album. But that’s what they did. They kind of felt like, ‘why is it in English more than the last one?’
“At first, it didn’t sit well with me. Like, ‘why don’t you just listen to the songs? Why are you so focused on the language?’ Even on Ina Ethe, it was my decision to write predominantly in Xhosa. They fail to understand, as an artist, you’re hoping to rope in as many people as possible.
“I saw that with Ina Ethe, as much as it was in my language, I perform a lot outside of South Africa. And those people love that album, but they would say: ‘I enjoy the music, but I would love to know what you’re saying’.
“That led me to the decision that I would try and cross those borders. To stop being a black artist and just be an artist. But it’s funny, after most people got over the language thing, they were like: ‘Well done, you’ve outdone yourself, the album is better than the last’. That makes me happy.”
The artist who has written for the likes of Thebe and Theo Kgosinkwe is excited about the Sama nominations, but insists that awards are more acknowledgements and not signifiers of a person’s worth.
She says: “Even as a young artist coming in, I have never felt that if I don’t get an award, I’m not worth anything.
“You would think that after 15 years, I have cases and cases and bookshelves of awards – and I don’t. But that’s never put me down. It’s not a sign of my work or lack thereof. I kept at it.
“If I don’t win at the Samas, I won’t be discouraged. I feel extremely blessed and people get me and love me whether or not I win an award.”
This is one of the reasons why she’s been brave enough to “showcase the other sides of me” with her current single, Funky Lovin’ – an R&B ditty that gets you moving. It’s also one of the reasons why this X-Factor SA judge is using her platform to pay it forward and pulling other people up with her.
“For the rest of the year, we’re busy planning a tour,” she says. “But for now, I’ve been in studio, writing and recording music for an artist I want to develop. I feel like everything is falling into place for this young man and we need to start grooming the next generation of vocalists.”
The South African Music Awards take place at the Durban ICC on Saturday. Book at Computicket. The live broadcast will be on SABC1 at 8pm.