Music Interview: Zolani Mahola – The One Who Sings, Or A Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With A Solo Step

August 22, 2019

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New Year’s Eve, 31 December 2019, Zolani Mahola will perform at Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town for the last time as the lead singer of internationally acclaimed band Freshlyground before taking a break to focus on her solo career.

In November this year, she will launch her debut solo release The One Who Sings, coinciding with a show at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town, sharing her story and music. Tickets are already on sale.



“Influence” is a loaded, often misunderstood concept. An artist may sound similar to another but have no knowledge of them, or be a superfan of someone whose output is completely different to their own. Who or what was the artist, album, song, era or scene that initially mapped out the road to you becoming a musician?

I would have to say it was me eavesdropping on my older brothers’ cassette tapes of the Manhattans, Commodores, Stevie Wonder – Motown records. That’s what turned me on to music initially.

Has that changed over the years? If so, how and why, and what are you currently exploring?

Yes, it has changed over and over again, with my introduction to grunge music in the Nineties – Nirvana and the like. My ears opened wider with the introduction of what was then thought of as “white music” – rock and punk and classical music. I still listen to everything that speaks to me. It’s a wide palette.

Name one song you wish you’d written (or, if you’re not a writer, one you’d like to be know as the definitive interpreter of). What makes that song so important?

 Bohemian Rhapsody. Because … the levels!

Which aspects of your music do you prioritise? For you, would you rather have that your lyrics, your melodies, or your vocals or instrumental work are the are the most memorable parts of your songs?

 Lyrics and melody are the main for me! I was a poet first, then a writer. Then the words became melody; then the instrumentation followed.

The music industry is no longer a single-narrative operation. For you, what is the best way to get your music from your head to potential listeners? Please comment on digital means (from social media to full streaming and download distribution), playing live (how often; where; to whom), being a cottage industry (eg selling CDs from a box in your car) and any other creative channels you’ve explored.

I have no idea. Seriously, things change at such a rapid rate. I still have to educate myself on the best way forward. I am sharing my musical journey with my followers on social media and that’s before I’ve recorded or released it. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong – it just feels good to me.

What is the story behind your new project – the genesis of the songs, the people involved, the muse behind its creation?

 I’ve just released myself in a sense, as a new entity. I’ve just made the world aware of myself as a solo entity, a musician in my own right apart from my beloved band Freshlyground. This new entity – The One Who Sings – will be releasing music later on this year. The genesis behind the name stems from the fact that over the past 38 years I’ve been known by various names and people struggle to remember my actual name, so they call me lo uculayo. That is isiXhosa for “the one who sings”. And on we go, to the next chapter!

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