Zulu Mkhathini has been in the entertainment industry for 10 years. He tells us what has kept him going, his new single Lendlela and his success tips
What attracted you to the music industry and share with us how you broke into it?
I think there is a difference between music and the music industry. So, what attracted me to music was the love of sounds, the love of watching performances, especially of the likes of Michael Jackson and James Brown; even at home, my mom always played gospel and maskandi music. My home was never quiet, there was always music playing. Also, growing up in the township influenced my love for music because it played everywhere. When I got much older, I started making music with my friends Lusaso and Trevor and that is how Dream Team was created. We didn’t necessarily make music to blow up, but to entertain people around us. It became an industry thing when people started sharing our music and it blew up. I knew I would end up in the entertainment industry, but I wasn’t sure if it would be from music, presenting, acting or fashion. But, music came first and it has been an amazing journey.
Why did you change your stage name from Dash to Zulu Mkhathini?
I have always been around people, I’m a people’s person and I have been given nicknames in whatever space I am, from soccer to dancing. I’ve always responded to the nicknames that people had given me. But growing and travelling has exposed me to the importance of finding self, appreciating and acknowledging where you come from, who you are and trying to leave a legacy for my children and family to build from. It was important for me to go back to my birth name. I also wanted to make it easier for people to also connect to my culture and my tribe, just by my name alone.
You have been in the entertainment industry for over 10 years, what have been the highlights and challenges you have experienced?
There are too many highlights. However, some include: making a hit breakthrough song Tsekede, and getting people like Big Nuz and AKA to do the remix; being the official tour dancers for HHP and experiencing the industry from a creative’s perspective; travelling the country as well was an amazing experience; getting a presenting gig at V Entertainment, as well as having my own show, The Ultimate House Vibe; the brand endorsements and being on stage. Some of the challenges were not being able to separate my personal life from the music, leaving Dream Team and having a public breakup. There are also financial challenges, especially as an independent artist as I have to constantly invest in myself.
What is your definition of success and do you feel you have achieved it?
My definitions change the more I grow. When I was much younger, it was to get my music and work out there and that was success for me. Then it shifted to how to turn my passion into revenue, which I did achieve. At this point, success means finding peace and being comfortable in who I am and express myself how I want to, instead of what the industry expects of me. Peace of mind is now the most important thing to me now. I am looking forward to defining what success will be in the future, which I believe will be legacy-driven.
Tell us about your single, Lendlela, what inspired the lyrics and who will resonate more with the song?
A personal journey that I was going through inspired the song. After writing fun, dance songs, I felt it was time for me to write meaningful songs that speak on what I was going through, as well as what the world was experiencing. I wanted to reiterate the message of the journey continues and don’t give up because of what you are going through now. Lendlela, means journey, which does eventually get better. The song is about growth and the fact that failure brings lessons. It also encourages people to take the first step towards God and that is where you will find answers and the light. I think everyone will resonate with the song, especially those who are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Apart from music, what has kept you busy and fulfilled?
A lot of things, like self-introspection. At this point, I spend a lot of time in my head trying to understand why I feel and think a certain way. Gym has also played a huge role in keeping me healthy and fit. Spending time with friends and family has kept me fulfilled.
How did Covid-19 affect your music career and how did you remain afloat, especially pertaining to your mental well-being?
Covid-19 didn’t really affect my music on a commercial or public level because I wasn’t musically involved. It came at a time where I was developing what I wanted to say and do in the music space. It did, however, delay the release of the project because of financial pressure. It was harder to connect and collaborate with people who were through their issues. But it did help me find meaning in the music that I made. It terms of my mental well-being, it was tricky. I think many people went into a dark place, especially creatives who have seen so many changes as a result of lockdowns. But I am grateful for my family and friends who motivated me out of the dark zone I was in.
What can fans expect from you this year?
More visuals in terms of the album. It is a three-part project, from the music, visuals to the performance. I want to bring back the fun in terms of the stage presence, costumes, and dancers. I also plan to release my clothing line as well.
Who would you like to work with locally or internationally and why?
I like working with other creatives. I’m open to working with local or international designers, from the artwork to the clothing for my videos. There are also people in the film industry who I respect who I would like to work with for my videos. Musically, I want to build more relationships with local and international artists to be able to collaborate with.
If you could change anything about the music/entertainment industry, what would it be and why?
I would definitely change the systems that we are working with, which I feel works against and doesn’t appreciate artists. Artists are not reaping the rewards of their hard work because they create but get the least from the food chain. I would also like to change the way music is being diluted and the way artists are not allowed to speak their truth but are forced to make the easiest and cheesiest songs just to earn a living. I also don’t like how these days music is consumed and the fact that it doesn’t have a lasting effect, which I would like to change.
What are your success tips for young people?
I have two tips that I think are important. Firstly, be true to yourself and what you want to do, like and believe in, what inspires and excites you. Be honest in your craft and who you are because success is not only financial. You might make a lot of money but don’t feel successful because you don’t represent who you are. Secondly, research, learn and study the industry you want to be in. Get as much information as you can and use it to build your success.
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