She's Zolani Mahola, The one who sings. When she first started out, for a long time she was called Boniswa after she acted in the drama series Tsha Tsha. Then fans called her Nomvula following the success of the album with Freshlyground.
Now they simply call her The one who sings, and she's embraced the name. Zolani has been out of the spotlight for a bit but she's making new music and recently released a single.
She made her first appearance on TV in 2002 on Tsha Tsha. Thereafter, Freshlyground’s success with the release of their second album Nomvula in 2003 put her firmly on the rise.
She had 17 successful years as the lead singer of the multi-award-winning group and even performed with international renowned star Shakira for the 2010 World Cup.
Now she's rebranded and Zolani is now known as The one who sings.
“There was always confusion around my name. To this day people refer to me as Boniswa from Tsha Tsha, or they will call me Nomvula. Rarely do they refer to me as Zolani Mahola. In fact, the most common name people give me when they encounter me is ‘Lo uculayo’ translated in English as ‘The one who sings’. I must confess I have struggled with this nameless lack of positive identification with my given name,” she tells Drum.
The musician has come to embrace and treasure the name ‘The one who sings’, and she says she feels like she has a new identity.
“After Freshlyground, I went out in search of my individual identity, and I played around a lot in terms of musical genres and artistic disciplines to discover my true voice. I also became a naturalist and discovered a deep ancestral connection between the ocean and the forests. These inform the voice of The One Who Sings - which is a name that my fans gave me long ago and one which I have now claimed as my new artist name,” she tells Drum.
After her last performance with Freshlyground in 2019, she took most of this year off as a sabbatical. “I did a lot of diving in the sea and reconnecting with my family,” she shares.
This week, The one who sings released her first single Wawundithembisile off her debut solo album, Thetha Mama.
“I don’t want to give away too much, other than to say it’s a fresh, contemporary body of work that I have literally poured my soul into. It’s the exciting start to the next chapter of my life,” she shares.
In the song, she features one of the most celebrated producers, Sun El.
“I have collaborated with Sun-El before when we released our track Call Me on his latest album. It was wonderful to feature him on two songs in my upcoming first solo album. I recorded Wawundithembisile with legendary producer JB Arthur and felt I would love to release an additional version of the song. I approached Sun-El and he and Kenza (a producer with El-World) created a magical remix to an already magical song,” Zolani says.
Three of the songs were produced by JB Arthur who, together with Sibusiso Victor Masondo, produced two critical Freshlyground albums including Nomvula but the majority of the album was produced by Mr. Sakitumi.
She has been working on her album during the pandemic and it gave her the stillness she needed.
“I wouldn’t say it was especially difficult because I was determined to take my time and not rush my first solo album. So, it was a very long process with many breaks, and I enjoyed that aspect of it,” Zolani says.
Since leaving Freshlyground, she learned a few lessons that she will carry with her.
“Do what speaks to you. Take breaks if you can. The question is whether you still are joyfully invested or if you’re just doing it for the money or out of obligation. Get support. Up-skill yourself. Know that you are going to make it beautiful,” Zolani shares.
She is also featured on the recently released African Lullabies album, her song is a lullaby that she sang to her second-born son when she was putting him down one night.
“I expect to create works that elevate the sanctity of the time of childhood; so, works for or about children. I will use various artistic disciplines such as music, theatre, film, and other forms of storytelling to highlight our connection to nature and to just make pretty things because it’s fun too.”