Berita lets her spirit fly on CD

NEW DIRECTIONS: Afro-soul artist Berita Khumalo. PHOTO: VELI NHLAPO
NEW DIRECTIONS: Afro-soul artist Berita Khumalo. PHOTO: VELI NHLAPO

THE resemblance is not physical but it is nevertheless striking. New Afro-soul artists Berita Khumalo has just released her album The Conquering Spirit last week - and if you have been listening casually to Zahara you could easily say they are the same artist.

Khumalo and Zahara's voices sound the same. Once could easily conclude that some of the beats and melodies in some of the songs on their debut albums were done by the same artist.

The resemblance does not end there. They both play the guitar and both are from Eastern Cape, with Khumalo being a second-year financial information system student at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and Zahara coming from Port Elizabeth.

Both sing in IsiXhosa but on some songs Khumalo mixes IsiXhosa and IsiNdebele. But both sing Afro-soul, potentially setting them up for serious competition in the now competitive Afro-soul genre in which one also finds Thandiswa Mazwai, sisters Lulu and Zonke Dikana, Lira and Nomhle Nongogo.

"In fact, I have been playing the guitar for the past two years, having abandoned the piano for the guitar," she says. "The irony is I never thought I could sing and that is why I stuck to playing the guitar.

"It is only recently that I discovered I could actually sing as well. I have always thought I was going to be a writer, so I wrote what i thought was going to be my first novel, which was 40000 words.

"Then my agent told me that the novel was good, but I needed to write some more. Well, I thought I would I tell the same story in shorter words. I wrote down songs and decided there and then that that was the way to go," the confident young artist, who has just turned 20, told Sowetan.

But then I pointed out that more than four people I had shared the music with were struck by her music's striking resemblance to that of Zahara as far as beats, melody and flavour were concerned.

"Really. Do I sound like Zahara? That is strange because I'm driven by a passion for music. In soul music I am giving my soul to the people. Maybe people think our music resemble each other because we both play the guitar. Personally I have been playing the guitar for two years," she said.

But then, in the small but tight music industry that South African music industry is, isn't she afraid that in the face of Zahara-mania her voice will be suppressed because the public will focus on Zahara.

"It is so strange because the person I want to emulate as a mentor is Zonke," she said. "She is so focused when it comes to soul music her work will actually last and not be just for the moment.

"Besides, what gives me confidence is the fact that when my parents heard my music for the first time they loved it and said go ahead.

"They have blessed my music path, and I am going to succeed because of that.

So I am not worried that two musicians performing the same genre of music happen to be travelling in the same direction. The plane in which we are travelling, I believe, is big enough for more than two musicians."

Khumalo's new 10-track album has been produced by well-known gospel artist Thami Mdluli, who was introduced to the artist by Alex FM DJ Da Flash.