Sisters playing it for themselves
There is now a guitar frenzy among young female musicians
South Africa has been under the spell of sensational singer and guitarist Zahara ever since she released her phenomenally successful debut album Loliwe last year.
There is now a guitar frenzy among young female musicians, who have suddenly developed an appetite for the charming stringed instrument.
Zahara's strong social commentary has also had wide influence, as has her general appearance, including apparel and hairstyles.
Contrary to what one would expect, this mushrooming of Zahara wannabes within the past 12 months has received nothing but blessings from the award-winning newcomer.
Recent examples of new players include Berita Khumalo, the Afro-soul vocalist, whose genre is so close to Zahara's that one could imagine that Zahara is singing when listening to her debut album The Conquering Spirit. Though Berita has a voice of her own, she sounds distinctly like Zahara and also plays the guitar.
And just this week Rethabile Khumalo, who has made the top 100 of the popular Idols competition, was happy to show off her guitar to our photographer at a recent Idols selection session.
Her story was run on Tuesday this week, and she hopes to impress the Idols judges at Sun City this weekend. Rethabile's mother is veteran Afro-pop singer Winnie Khumalo.
Last year, just after Zahara started to take the country by storm, leading singer Lira whipped out her seemingly long-forgotten six-string, dusted it off and showed it to the media. She said she had been playing before Zahara was even known as a musician beyond her neighbourhood in Eastern Cape.
Other women who have shown interest in the instrument include Thandiswa Mazwai, who last year was known to be taking private guitar lessons from a top instrumentalist.
"Off course, this new interest in the guitar has something to do with the success of Zahara," Thembinkosi Nciza, Zahara's mentor and producer, said yesterday.
"A revolution has to start somewhere. In this case it started with Zahara. Suddenly every young musician is interested in the guitar. It is good to see musicians actually developing themselves instead of wanting to be featured on a DJ's house music album."
Nciza, however, cautioned those who just want to mimic Zahara. "Zahara is currently taking guitar lessons to improve her skills, to stay ahead of the game."
Speaking for herself on the matter, the somewhat reserved Zahara said: "Look, I think this is good, and it just means I must be a better player."
However, guitar-playing female musicians are old hat in South Africa and across the globe, including composer Tu Nokwe, versatile veteran Nothembi Mkhwebane, Xhosa spiritual singer Madosini, Zimbabwean Afro-soul fusion artist Chiwoniso Maraire, crossover icon Tracy Chapman, along with fellow American musical pathfinders Lauryn Hill, Erykah Badu and India Arie.
Nokwe said: "I think the reason why young artists want to be like Zahara, complete with guitar, is because her music seems to be coming from within."
Veteran drummer and saxophonist Sipho "Hotstix" Mabuse says: "What is happening is typical of the South African music industry. It is like the formula that has worked for Zahara must also work for me, and therefore let us follow the formula that has worked.
"It is not a bad thing though, as it is about time female South African musicians learn to play instruments. It is the next developmental stage of music in the country."
Coincidentally, Mabuse featured in one of Zahara's music videos alongside DJ S'bu, who produced the stunning house version of one of Zahara's songs, Lengoma.