This album review was written by Snethemba Chiya
It feels like just yesterday when we watched a phenomenon that swept the country by storm in 2011. A young songstress from the dusty streets of the Eastern Cape simply named Zahara with her guitar had ‘Mzantsi’ under a musical spell and stole our hearts.
It was like a train had finally arrived that everyone had been waiting to board. I use this metaphor intentionally and shamelessly since everyone knows her first single Loliwe that was critically acclaimed and still universally loved as a South African classic.
Her first album, also titled Loliwe, reached double platinum status in South Africa by surpassing the 100,000 sales mark in less than a month. This made her the second musician after Brenda Fassie to reach this figure in such record time.
Through the years Zahara has continued to top the charts and produce hit albums amidst much controversy and personal struggles that were often splashed across tabloids.
Most recently an unflattering video went viral of the artist singing with a group of “friends” where it appeared like she had one too many drinks and this surfaced right in the middle of her latest album promotion.
But it seems you can’t keep Zahara down as her latest offering has once again shaken the music scene.
Her fifth and most recent studio album titled Nqaba Yam is an affirmation that Zahara believes in a higher power that shields her from the evils of this world.
The title track, which is also fittingly the first song on the album, is a mellow, sad plea to the almighty to shelter her from the storm and wipe away her tears, and this sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Nqaba means ark or shelter in isiXhosa, by the way.
As I continued listening, I could not help but notice the heavy country music influences on most of the songs and most notably on a track titled Ndincede, which had an uncanny resemblance to Bob Dylan’s 1973 classic Knocking on Heaven’s Door, a classic which was also made famous by a collaboration between Dolly Parton and Lady Smith Black Mabazo in recent years.
I jokingly texted a friend who had also listened to the album, “what in the Dolly Parton is going on here?”, we both laughed in approval.
Zahara is showing off her versatility and musical influences as a guitarist first and foremost and we are here for it.
Systems, a subtle social commentary song about the current political and socioeconomic conditions, has become a TikTok viral sound with a line that goes “I refuse to become because what I have become is not becoming”. Many content makers on the app are making jokes about the wordplay on the song.
Of course there are also light-hearted and upbeat moments on the album like the song Ntak’ encincane which has a Sophiatown, Mariam Makeba vibe to it that just makes you want to tap your feet, snap your fingers and twist your hips.
Nqaba Yam is a solid and cohesive offering with enough sorrow and misery to make you cry yourself to sleep when you need to, but also it can give you enough motivation needed to wake up with hope for a new dawn the next day. It does not stray too far from the Zahara we all fell in love with a decade ago yet it is still bold enough to push the envelop and experiment with different aesthetics while also maintaining an authentic African sound.
Snethemba gives Nqaba Yam by Zahara an 8/10 rating