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Kwaito is a South African urban genre of music. It emerged post-Apartheid amidst the numerous political and social changes that were occurring in South Africa. These changes included the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, and South Africa's first democratic election in 1994. Through his lyricism, it is evident that Zola is proud of many of his country's unique languages including Afrikaans. Afrikaans is "a more white people's language that is unique to South Africa" according to Zola. Kwaito is a way of life that has been spurred by the modern democratic freedom South Africans have been experiencing. Kwaito relates to the old tradition of expressing political thought through creative outlets that can be observed in all societies. For Zola, Kwaito defines something different: "For one, we are trying to find out who we are and where we fit in the role of this democratic South Africa as young people. There's no more fighting. People have to go back to school." Although lyrics to some Kwaito songs by Zola tend to bear strong sociological messages, the social context of South Africa is generally not receptive to the occasionally poignant lyrics of Kwaito. Zola also recognizes that people are allowed to start their own record labels now that there is more finance coming to the South African people. In the past, South Africans went to down-town studios where they would record, and thus receive fewer royalties than they do now in their own private studios. This Kwaito artist has not only achieved success in the soundscapes that resonate throughout the globe but Zola also has a reality television show called "Zola 7". On this show, people write to Zola and telling him their dreams and Zola helps the people achieve the. Zola is looking forward to collaborating with European artists in the future. Zola has also acted in the Oscar winning movie Tsotsi.
Zola 7 clothing range was launched in November 2005.
Zola's previous albums have made him one of the biggest selling artists in South Africa.
He was born on 24 April Soweto Township of Johannesburg, South Africa, where Dlamini spent his formative years in Zola, sub-township in Soweto notoriously known for its high crime rate, from which he adopted his name. Unemployment, alcoholism, and single parent families are the norm in Zola. Dlamini's father abandoned the family, leaving his mother to care for him and his older brother and sister when they were young. Zola himself served time in prison as a juvenile for car theft.
Zola become well known for his role as the notorious gangster Papa Action in Yizo Yizo 2. The character was already popular in Yizo Yizo and had been portrayed by another actor. Zola resembled the previous performer, and his performance only increased the popularity of the role. He also performed the score and played a role in the Academy Award-winning film, Tsotsi and the movie Drum. Zola also has a prominent role in the documentary SHARP! SHARP!- the kwaito story (2003) directed by Aryan Kaganof.
Zola has enjoyed success as a Kwaito superstar, and is probably the most popular Kwaito artist in the country; Lance Stehr of Ghetto Ruff records has referred to Zola as "the second biggest brand in the country next to Nelson Mandela." Zola not only performs but also writes and produces some of his own music, signing to the independent label Ghetto Ruff records. Zola will be recording a posthumous collaboration with hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur. The track will be recorded in South Africa but feature on a CD to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Shakur's death on 13 September 1996. Zola is also the owner of the music company Guluva Entertainment.
Originally, Zola was not a fan of Kwaito music, because it "had no message." He has taken upon himself to change this, viewing himself as a role model. "I want to inspire a guy from the ghetto so he can stop hanging around in the corner begging and try to get some life." In the song "Mdlwembe", which literally means problem child, he expresses his feelings about the neighborhood he grew up in. He talks about the horrible quality of life of the township, particularly the extreme level crime and violence. "Beware of the Zola boys, We do crime for money" demonstrates Zola's past and also the perpetual anguish of life in a ghetto. Today, Zola works on behalf of younger performers, helping them to be integrated into the music industry. He is a pioneer in social action and benefit projects in South Africa.
Kwaito is branded as apolitical; often associated with the advancement of personal wealth, Glamorized gangster lifestyle, and frivolous consumption themes found in much of Jamaican Dancehall and Rap. The Genre is associated with a new political freedom gain since the end of Apartheid in South Africa and less political strife. The form of the Kwaito produced by Zola is in that case an anomaly in that it is very much politically charged and contains a social message.
Zola raps in isiZulu with high usage of tsotsi. Tsotsitaal is the vernacular slang in South Africa. This infusion of colloquial dialect with a national language allows for better interaction between the artists and the community South Africans in lower socio-economic classes who live in the townships and speak tsotsi can relate to Kwaito music differently than to Cape Town hip hop or US hip hop because of the lyrics. Additionally many of his songs describe situations of life in the townships more specifically in Soweto
He has received four South African Music Awards:
- Artist of the Year - 2002
- Best Soundtrack - Yizo Yizo
- Best Music Video - "Ghetto Scandalous"
- Best Kwaito Album - Umdlwembe
At the Metro FM Awards 2001, Zola won on public vote:
- Song of the Year - "Ghetto Scandalous"
- Best Album of the Year - Umdlwembe
- Best Kwaito Album - Umdlwembe
- Umdlwembe (2000)
- Khokhovula (2002)
- Bhambatha (2004)
- Ibutho (2005)
- Tsotsi (2005 Motion Picture)
- Impepho (2009)
- Unyezi (2011)
- Mhlambi, Thokozani. "'Kwaitofabulous': The study of a South African urban genre." Journal of the Musical Arts in Africa, vol 1 (2004): 116-27.
- Bonginkosi Dlamini. The Voice of South African Kwaito: Zola [World Music Feature]. Washington, D.C.: National Public Radio.
-  The Kwaito Generation
- Shota,Babalwa (2004)'Dare to Dream.' "Sunday Times Magazine", 9, 10-12 May.
- The Kwaito Generation : Inside Out :: A production of 90.9 WBUR Boston, MA
- BBC World Service | Rhythms of the Continent
- Zola: Rising music icon of our time
- Stanley-Niaah, Sonjah. "Mapping of Black Atlantic Performance Geographies: From Slave Ship to Ghetto." In Black Geographies and the Politics of Place, ed. by Katherine McKittrick and Clyde Woods, 193-217. Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2007
- 'I saw blood on the street' | Features | guardian.co.uk Film
- nhlanhla sibongile mafu, Johannesburg, 2002 "hybridization and slang in south african poetry" Kagablog 12 December 2007