She's just 19-years-old - but ZAMAJOBE SITHOLE is set to significantly impact the South African music scene with her debut album, entitled NDAWO YAMI due for release in Sep/Oct 2004. Touting new artists as the "next big thing" is commonplace in the global music market, but there are several things about Zama (as she is most often called) that ensure she stands out from the crowd of young artists on today's scene. Next is Zama's not inconsiderable performing ability - an ability to dominate a stage with the ease of an individual born to do it. Her way with a song on a live stage was first evident on 2003's Idols contest where the young singer made it into the Top 10 and, during her performances, earned a devoted network of fans drawn to Zama's magic. And then there is Zama's songwriting gift, which is on excellent display throughout the album. In many ways, it's this that she's most elated about: "I have been singing and performing for years now," she says, "but I've never been able to showcase my songwriting ability before now which makes the album such an important thing in my life." Recorded at the Jazzworks Studio in Randburg, Gauteng, Zama's debut release draws together her singing, performing and songwriting gifts into one immensely lovable package, that will find an easy home with an ever-expanding base of quality music lovers throughout the country.
Don't expect hot-off-the-charts mimicry on the album. As Zama herself states: "During Idols many people said that I could easily become a kind-of Beyonce performer, using my voice to give life to the urban music of the moment. But it's not what I wanted to do - it's not why I entered Idols. I am driven to create original music that is true of the kind of person that I am, and where I am at the moment."
Zama cites renowned performer and preacher, Pastor Benjamin Dube as a significant influence on her move into music. "I joined Pastor Benjamin's church when I was eight and it wasn't long after that, that I sang for the Church and Pastor Benjamin asked me to join the choir, where I remained for a long time." That was in Vosloorsrus and, undoubtedly, through her involvement in the Church as well as her mother's love for the genre, Gospel music has exerted a powerful influence on Zama (heard in the most subtle ways on her debut). But, as a teenager, there were other forms of music that crept into her life. "My Dad was very open to all forms of music and so I grew up listening to funk, and jazz and many others," she says.
Zama says it "took guts" to enter Idols. "I never thought I would win but just entering took a great deal of guts! And even though I didn't take the first spot, it gave me the platform to get noticed."
Indeed. Idols judge Dave Thompson, Marketing and A&R Director of BMG Africa noticed Zama's talent, early on - and gave her the chance to spend several months working in the BMG Demo Studios, laying down the guitar and vocals of the original songs now included on her debut release. Zama says she's grateful for the opportunity to hone her songwriting skills: "I thought that I could write before going into the demo studio and then coming over to Jazzworks," she says. "But the months of working on the songs, crafting them into real things, has allowed me to really grow."
Working with Zama on her album is another newcomer to the South African scene, guitarist Eric Pilani. "I would sing something to Eric and he would transfer it to the guitar, and we would expand the song from there. Even though I have been playing the guitar for a few years, having Eric, who is so experienced, as my collaborator, meant the process just flowed and I think we have come up with songs that people will love."
With Pilani producing with the assistance of the Jazzworx team, and Zama's creative input, the album is fresh and engaging - moving expertly between a broad swathe of genres (jazz, folk, traditional, Latino even, pop and, in moments, adult contemporary), the songs are diverse with the likes of "Ye Wena Sani" (a township-lingo driven, rootsy piece) sitting comfortably alongside "Wondering", featuring gentle guitar work and breathy vocals. "Nothing compares to this experience," Zama says. "I've been singing for Pastor Benjamin for a long time and even provided vocals for a group that Eric had, performing at Kilimanjaro in Joburg and other places, and there was the whole Idols experience. But crafting an album that speaks totally of who I am is just such a joy that I truly hope everyone out there is going to feel it as much as I do."