Zoë launches her highly anticipated debut, ‘Yellow: The Novel’, and proves that she is indeed a rare local musical treasure.
By: Thanduxolo “Thandz” Buti
Photo by: Aart Verrips
Before attending Zoë’s album launch, I was still quite oblivious of her musical abilities. I don’t own a TV, so unlike viewers of The Voice South Africa, last year, I never got caught up in her rapture, till later on.
I knew she was something rare when some of the harshest music purists – who shudder at the mention of any singing reality TV show – seemed to be championing the young star.
Yet, even with such a strong support, Zoë did not win The Voice. However, it’s safe to say that her appearance on the show helped to solidify her as a star.
Zoë launched her highly anticipated debut album Yellow: The Novel, at Joburg theatre, with a bewitching show that was met with resounding acclaim from fans and music lovers.
The star could contain her elation as we chatted backstage after the show.
“As soon as I got off the stage I felt so overwhelmed that I started praying and thanked God. It’s hard to believe that I am suddenly here and the people are receiving my music,” she tells Blacklight.
“It has been a long journey. These songs have so many stories in them and it’s such an amazing feeling to be able to take that journey and share it in such a beautiful way.”
The show also attracted music heavyweights like RJ Benjamin, Luyanda Madope, Lira and Thandiswa Mazwai, who seemed impressed by the young star.
Zoë presented music that surprisingly strayed from the pop fodder synonymous with singing competitions, proving that she is at heart a jazz princess. But she admits that releasing a jazz album was not an easy decision.
“After The Voice, I found myself in a predicament, musically, and trying to decide whether I should just put out my music or go with something more commercial. I was having a lot of sleepless nights because I had this urge I needed to scratch out.
“In the end, I believe that our creator creates us to exceed and succeed through high risks. For me putting out this kind of music was a high risk but I know it can bear high rewards. I don’t think a pop record would be as rewarding as this record is to me now,” says the star.
Yellow: The Novel is quite a bold offering as a debut. It is a lucid soul and jazz experience that successfully places Zoë right into the exclusive house of great female jazz vocalists in the country.
The two-disc offering is embedded with twenty-three tracks that distinctly showcase Zoë’s undeniable vocal ability and musicianship. Like Zamajobe with Ndawo Yami, the record is the soundtrack of a young woman’s life with lyrics written with admirable maturity.
The singer says that the music in Yellow is poignant because it revealed itself to her during a very dark moment in her life.
“I come from an academic family, but I was kicked out at school, and I always wanted to prove that studying music should be respectable too, but I felt like I failed.
“That was the lowest part in my life and it was during that time these songs came flooding in. I didn’t understand how it was happening, but now I know that the more life happens, the more the songs reveal themselves,” she shares.
Zoë was born in Durban as Palesa Nomthandazo Phumelele Modiga. Before she made it to the big stage, she was earning her stripes as a young jazz vocalist in Cape Town, where she studied Jazz at UCT (University of Cape Town). She also enrolled at the National School of the Arts, in Braamfontein, Johannesburg, and studied piano, clarinet and vocals.
It was important that my first record comes out exactly how I wanted it to be, so that even if I try out other things in future, people can always know how it all began.
“From an early age, I really loved music and my family encouraged me to enrol at the school of the arts and that’s when I started learning my craft.
“I would spend like seven hours practising and I think that was very important in helping me become a professional musician and performer,” she explains.
Her years of studying seem to have turned her into a seasoned performer. She gracefully occupies the stage with great dominance that is easily comparable to Lira, who was her coach on The Voice.
But it’s her rather colourful stage persona that makes her a relatable performer. She chats and jokes with the crowd throughout her set, and like Nina Simone, she is not shy to call out people coming in and out of the venue or even caught chatting.
“Hey, uyaphi? Uyaphi?” She calls out to a lady who walks out as she performs a song that clearly takes her into a moment of deep introspection.
She reveals that Nina Simone inspires her a lot as a performer. “Nina is really amazing man and she was the kind of performer I strive to be on a daily basis.”
As an independent artist, Zoë seems to very clear about what kind of artist she wants to be. She says that for her first album she wanted 100% creative control, a decision that lead to conflicts of interest with a few labels, resulting in her going the indie route.
“I am an artist who loves control because I like creating my own narrative. It was important that my first record comes out exactly how I wanted it to be, so that even if I try out other things in future, people can always know how it all began,” she adds.
The star says, she simply hopes that the record inspires people the way that it inspires her.
“If I can move people more towards themselves and encourage self-love then I think I have accomplished my goal as a musician,” she concludes with a smile.
Zoë’s album, Yellow: The Novel, is available at all leading digital platforms.
For more on the singer, you can go to; Zoemodiga.com