Zamajobe Sithole is evidently impacting the South African music scene with her debut album (released through SONY BMG Music Entertainment/Giant Steps label) titled, NDAWO YAMI (My Place) the album that announces an arrival of substantial new talent on the continent’s recorded music scene, has just achieve GOLD sales status (sales in excess of 25 000 units).
Zamajobe received four nominations for SAMA 2005 in the categories; BEST NEWCOMER, BEST JAZZ VOCAL ALBUM, BEST JOINT COMPOSITION (together with Erik Pilani), and BEST ENGINEER (Robin Kohl/Jazzworx) for the album NDAWO YAMI.
First up is her astonishingly beautiful voice, which captivates with ease, and leaves listeners smitten in its powerful wake. Zamajobe has never been one for the strident, at times overbearing vocals beloved by so many of today’s stars: as NDAWO YAMI more than reveals, Zamajobe uses her voice at times sparingly, often with a slightly breathless edge, and always plump with just enough emotion to talk directly into the heart of anyone in hearing range.
Next is Zamajobe’s performing ability and her ability to dominate a stage with the ease of an individual born to entertain. Her way with a song on a live stage was first evident on 2003’s Idols contest where the singer made it into the Top 10 and, during her performances, earned a devoted network of fans drawn to Zamajobe’s magic.
And then there is Zamajobe’s song writing 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 song writing ability before now which makes the album such an important project in my life.”
Recorded at the Jazzworx Studio in Randburg, Gauteng, Zama’s debut release draws together her singing, performing and song writing gifts into one immensely lovable package that will find a place with an ever-expanding base of quality music lovers throughout the country who will respond with enthusiasm to Zamajobe’s astonishingly sophisticated sound that yet always remains grounded in African soil.
Zamajobe is driven to create original music that is a true reflection of who she is and where she is at – it is a process of constant evolution and NDAWO YAMI is an invitation to explore just that.
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.”
In Vosloorsrus at the time, 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) – and 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.”
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 be 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 song writing skills: “I thought that I could write before going into the demo studio and then going into Jazzworx,” she says. “But the months of working on the songs, crafting them into real things whilst in studio, has allowed me to really grow.”
Working with Zama on her album is another newcomer to the South African scene, guitarist Eric Pilani whose obvious gift for his instrument of choice adds immeasurably to NDAWO YAMI, providing the thread that joins all 12-tracks together.
“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 Erik 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.
And these are just some of the most captivating tracks on an album that is never short on musical magic. “Ndawo Yami” is another exquisite offering: a track that showcases Zama’s highly evocative voice, gently moving across a musical bed that gradually adds layer after layer of instrumentation to create a song of pure beauty. “Come With Me” is yet another song that benefits from a restrained production hand, always allowing Zama’s lyrics to pull the listener in, again and again, on the wings of the artist’s delicately restrained voice.
But NDAWO YAMI also benefits from a variety of musical moods. “Taxi Ride” is underpinned by a Latino bedrock that moves Zama’s voice into different territory; a place where it’s upbeat and rhythmical in a way that adds a bold new dimension to the song. “African Girl” is similarly uplifting, flowing with ease in song that pays positive homage to African girls throughout the continent, in all their beauty and intelligence.
“Nothing compares to this experience,” Zama says of creating NDAWO YAMI. “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.”