Multi award singing sensation, Zonke has shares the story behind her fifth studio album, Love and what has kept her going with her craft over the past fifteen years.
In her fifth studio album, L.O.V.E, Zonke gives her signature sound of being true to herself but elevates things up, with her confidence. The first glimpse of this comes with Tonight, the opening single off her first full-length album in three years. An irresistible slice of late-night sensuality, filtered over bass-heavy grooves and spliced with subtly suggestive piano parts, Tonight is a siren call for those who know that the only moment that counts is the present one. Already a chart-topper, it’s one of the most assured tracks to have emerged from Zonke’s formidable song writing pen. But don’t for a moment think that the remainder of the album lives in the shadow of L.O.V.E’s up-tempo first single. The other eight tracks are unmistakably world class, starting with album opener, NdiliMpondo, a pristinely crafted song that’s swept forward by Zonke’s astonishingly clear vocals and hypnotic percussion. It’s followed by Uphelelwa Lixesha which combines a percussive groove (that recalls trip-hop’s atmospherics) with a muted electric guitar, in a startlingly inventive mix. Other tracks are as original – and gracious, among them Uyandithanda, a simple declaration of love, while Best Days of My Life shines with a freshness that’s a hallmark of Zonke’s current work. L.O.V.E. has just one featured appearance – this time by Kwesta whose singleminded originality and record-breaking achievements echo Zonke’s own journey.
READ MORE: My Journey To Success With Kwesta
His rap on Soul To Keep moves with cool poise around Zonke’s vocals, never over-shadowing the business at hand: a powerful coming together of two exceptional South African artists in a showcase of love’s complexities. That the multi-award winning, multi-platinum selling singer, songwriter and producer has delivered a remarkable set of songs on the nine-track L.O.V.E is no mystery to her legion of fans – and her many admirers within the South African music industry. Over the past fifteen years, Zonke’s abundant musical gifts have ensured she is one of the most important artists working on the continent today. In this, Zonke is undeniably a modern-day African renaissance woman – as effortlessly capable of writing songs of immense emotional impact as she is of leading a group of musicians to execute the precise sound she requires for each of her compositions. When it came to her fifth studio album, Zonke didn’t shy away from creating music that signals the year it was made in. “As much as you might be a musician who has a signature sound, you need to be able to carry that through the different times you find yourself working in,” she explains. That said, Zonke is, if anything, even more self-directed in her music-making than she’s ever been in her considerable career. “I don’t worry about relevance or sit and think about how I am going to make my music sound ‘now’. I am only true to my artistic journey which has always been about not following where others have gone, but about starting something new.”
L.O.V.E stands for Living Out Various Emotions and the lyrics of the album are about what Zonke calls “the craziness and different emotions of love”. “I just went with my heart on this album and my heart wanted me to write about love – sometimes in a very light-hearted manner. Some of the songs are very playful and I hope people will find themselves laughing along to the lyrics on songs like Best Days of My Life.”
When it comes to making music she says, “I don’t know what’s going to come out, even seconds before I open my mouth to put words to the music. But when I do, there is something that feels so right about how the lyrics work with the melody that I can get goose bumps myself.” Zonke’s always been a deeply intuitive songwriter, able to perfectly align herself with what the musical moment requires – whether it’s for her own albums or the writing she’s done for others over the years (among them Tsepho Tshola, Winnie Khumalo, Mafikizolo, and Thebe). It’s what’s earned her multiple accolades (including Female Artist of the Year at the 2016 SA Music Awards) and multiple hit singles – among them Feelings and the gold-certified Reach It. “My songwriting just happens on its own. It’s involuntary and I don’t know how to explain it,” she confides. “What I do know is that often the best songs are the ones written from a place of pain.”
Zonke’s is no stranger to composing from the darkest place – most recently penning the pain-washed Meet Me In My Dreams off 2015’s Work of Heart for her sister Lulu Dikana who died suddenly in 2014, leaving Zonke deeply shocked and utterly bereft. Lulu’s death followed those of her mom, whom Zonke commemorated in song on Life, Love ‘n Music (2007) and her dad, who’s remembered in Ina Ethe (2011). This time around, however, Zonke proves that great songs can also emerge out of happiness and lightness, underscoring life’s enduring duality. She knew that Lulu was guiding her in that direction and allowed the music to flow from that wellspring. “I felt her presence during the whole recording process. You know, I’d give anything to have her back or have a real moment awake with her, not just in my dreams. But I don’t want that to be my storyline in this reality show called life. Lulu would not want that.”
In the end, too, Zonke knows no other way of living her truth. “I thank God every day that I’m a musician. For both the creator and the listener, there’s something extraordinary about what music brings and I’m continually grateful that I’m part of that.”
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