Written by: Tshego Molete, Joburg
Pictures by: Sifiso Khanyile
Smoky lights illuminate the swanky cavern called The Blues Room. The crowd is restless; some look bored, fidgeting with the stems of their glasses while others take the opportunity to swarm the bar till the very last minute. Mostly swish to look at, the Blues Room clientele looks for the most part as if they’ve all, to the man, landed the biggest tender in the room.
Suddenly, the beginnings of a drum roll, and then…well, nothing yet. All part of the dramatic build-up for the diva. The crowd starts craning its collective neck, there’s some activity at the door. And suddenly – again - there she is, in all her glory. Zamajobe is finally on the stage.
Zamajobe Sithole, the angelic find of the Idol’s season 3 competition seems to have outlasted all her peers from the reality contest. Even though she was voted out in the top 10 category of the competition, Idols’ judge Dave Thompson - Marketing and A&R; Director of BMG Africa - noticed Zama’s talent early on. He gave her the chance to spend several months working in the BMG Demo Studios. And thus was a latter day jazz diva born. Ndawo Yami, her first album, went on to sweep out at the 2005 SAMA awards, garnering prizes in the categories of Best Newcomer, Best Jazz Vocal Album, Best Joint Composition (with Erik Pailani), and Best Engineer (for Robin Kohl/Jazzworx).
After a hiatus from live performances, the gig at the Blues Room kicks off a tour of several venues in and around Gauteng. This is to launch her latest offering, Ndoni Yamanzi. Much like her first album Ndawo Yami, it consists mostly of laid back and breathy lyrics overlaid onto jazzy tracks. She uses her vocals well; sparingly, and the sound as always is mature beyond her years. The backing band was more than adequate. The mostly older musicians and backing vocalists carried the much younger diva by creating mountains of solidly rich sounds for her to swoop over and dive between.
However, the feeling you are left with from the set is that nothing much has changed. The songs from both albums are interchangeable. While it must have been nice for fans to hear old favourites, it is even more disappointing to hear that there hadn’t been much professional growth. The new album does not evoke any different emotions, and the new tracks lack the novelty of the previous offering. The crowd seems well pleased however, spellbound by her husky lyricism. Then again, it is always hard to tell with South African audiences, who for the most part appreciate familiarity over innovation. It is with mindset, this reviewer suspects, that the Blues Room was packed to the rafters and the Sandton-dwelling members of the Tender class felt comfortable enough to spend R100 on more of the same feeling.
Perhaps she’s just been away from the stage for too long, or perhaps she still needs time to hone her craft. Either way, it would have been far better to hear her talents put to good use in discovering the evolution of her person in her sound.