Born in the suburbs of Stockholm in 1972, Zelmani's father bought the family a guitar when Zelmani was 14. Despite no professional music training, Zelmani became a songwriter and recorded some songs at a local studio. After she mailed the demos to three record companies, Zelmani was offered a record deal by Sony Music Sweden.
Sophie Zelmani recorded her debut, eponymous album with Sony in 1995. The album was produced and arranged by Lars Halapi and co-produced by Patrik Sventelius, who also played guitar. She described the process of making the album: "In the beginning Lars and I spent a few months in the studio. We had fun and then picked the musicians. We recorded in two weeks but the whole thing took half a year." By 1997, Zelmani's debut album had sold 200,000 copies in Europe and Asia Pacific, before moving to the US market, distributed by Columbia Records. Zelmani said, "I had no ambitions to go abroad. I knew I wanted to make a record. That's all I wanted." Columbia's marketing campaign included CD sampler giveaways, consumer press, and rotation on Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) flights between Scandinavia and the US.
Zelmani has continued to record albums while making only a small number of public appearances due to shyness. She won a best newcomer award in Sweden's Grammy awards in 1996.