After finding her voice, Kholeka is sharing it
For 23 years, Kholeka Dabula has been a permanent fixture on the gospel landscape.
Unassuming and gracious yet erudite in her craft, she is one of the few remaining stars to emerge at the cusp of the new millennium. She and the late Lundi Tyamara and the late Sfiso Ncwane breathed new life into the gospel scene at that time, and also came in for some roasting, especially for mimicking gospel queen Rebecca Malope's voice, except for Ncwane.
Kholeka laughs: "I recently saw Rebecca and I said to her, 'Don't worry I've left your voice alone'.
"God gave me my voice and the world has not heard it yet, that realisation changed me. When you're yourself people love and respect you."
Now comfortable in her own skin, Kholeka recorded her first live album at the Joburg Theatre. The CD was released last month, the DVD is still on its way.
The CD is spiritually uplifting and rousing, thanks to her powerful singing and carefully curated tracks that span Methodist traditional hymns, Xhosa rhythms, jazz and her own compositions.
She says Izwi Lakhois her favourite track. The album features songs like Ewendiyavuma and Ndiyakholwa which are rooted in the confession. She reaches a high with Phakamis'icinga Zethu, which she says takes her closer to God.
She shares the story of the lead-up to the recording, when she parted ways with her whole band and found replacements with just three days to go. During the split, she also lost the technical director and most of the crew. She had to step in and fill those positions herself.
"When you see the DVD you will notice that I was down to a size 33 from all the pressure - not stress - just the pressure. I wasn't angry. I didn't cry."
Her one-woman show carries on as she promotes and markets her release, and she says she counts on the lessons from her previous A&R and promotions managers Tshepo Nzimande and Bigboy Mlangeni.
"I wish it opens doors for me. I want to perform in Ghana, Nigeria, London and the US and of course SADC region. I have been pleased to have the exclusive premiere of my music video with One Gospel and it can only mean the start of great things."
Looking back at her years in the game, Dabula says there were cries, smiles and walks in the wilderness, but now she is in a good place.
"I've never recorded live under a label, people captured me with their cellphones, but now I saved enough and did it by myself. I own the master tape of my recording, that's the best feeling."
Dabula says cutting ties with Bula Music, the label that made her famous, presented the fresh start she longed for.
"I bought my freedom at a high price, and for four years the creative juices dried up."
With a renewed vigour, Dabula is not looking back as she cements her place in the constellation of gospel stars.