The Star Sha Sha, the South African/Zimbabwean songstress whose melody is so sweet you can almost feel it when you hear it, has been pushing towards taking centre stage with her music career.
Sha Sha talks to OkayAfrica about taking maximum advantage of her features to carve out a solo career for herself.
She became an everyday name in South Africa, thanks, in part, to the mainstream radio exposure enjoyed by a sequence of singles she featured in together with popular singer Samthing Soweto and amapiano hitmaking producer duo DJ Maphorisaand Kabza de Small.
With an EP out, a BET Best International ACT accolade and an album in the making, her hard work is paying off handsomely.
On her debut eight-track EP, Blossom, published at the end of 2019, she takes provisional steps into fame. Half of the tracks on the venture are safe bets, featuring already trendy collaborators (Samthing Soweto, Maphorisa and Kabza).
The outstanding four tracks give a preview of her rare ability to make herself natural in a variety of styles. “You” is the uptempo pop hit almost made for daylight radio and pairs well with “Emazulwini,” which holds a slightly slower tempo and allows for her longing soprano to become famous.
“Water” blends afrobeat and EDM, with the Star Sha Sha riding the rhythm and teasing the synths occasionally.
“Mutare,” named from the Zimbabwean town where she resided when her artistic path became clear, is the strongest look at Sha Sha as an artist on the EP. The mix of Shona and English lyrics, a captivating chorus and almost trimmed down verses point towards an artistic and musical deepness beyond the hitmaker status the Star Sha Sha has won.
Music, choirs particularly, played an important anchoring role for her. Joining her first choir at around 12 years old, the Star Sha Sha sang soprano, seldom leading songs and gathered early on that she was a gifted singer. But it was only when one of her home-made recordings found its way onto ZiFM, the most prevalent radio station in Zimbabwe, that she decided to make a go for a profession in music.
OkayAfrica hooked up with the musician about rising up, her rise as a singer and plans for the future.
This discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
How has moving around as much as you did as a child affected the person that you are as an adult?
It helped me to become accustomed to new environments quickly, that’s for sure. And also to understand people, understand their viewpoints, always open to hearing what other people are saying or thinking or feeling. It’s helped me a lot as an individual. My mom always wanted me to talk English, but as I moved, I started speaking Ndebele and then Shona. Having to stay with my mom in the Vaal, in Vereeniging, that’s when I picked up Sesotho. If you appreciate Ndebele, it’s similar to Zulu, if you understand Sesotho, it’s similar to Setswana. I started picking up languages as I went. I put it all in my music, I’m displaying that I’m diverse.
When and how was your vocal talent first affirmed?
What’s funny is that I grew up knowing that I could sing, but I never took it seriously. I always believed it was not good enough, I couldn’t be that somebody out there. The time when it ultimately hit me was when I had gone to Mutare and was on my way back to Harare. One of my pals took one of my songs because at some point I had just begun recording and took it to ZiFM, one of the big radio stations in Harare. I was actually on my way to a meeting to be a receptionist and then I heard my song. I was going crazy, I remember that day. That was in 2014. The ZiFM CEO was blown away and he wanted me to come down to Harare to meet him. He directed me to August Mtawarira who is very respected in Zimbabwe and I started working with him and his team.
What was your first hit and how did it come about?
“Miss Independent” with Cal_Vin was my first real hit. I recall doing my part and then we gathered about Cal_Vin who was bursting at the time, everyone was talking about him. Besides, he was really dope. We sent the melody to him, he laced his words and then we dropped it. Everyone went crazy about it.
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How did you break into the South African market?
I had gone to an artist training programme run by a company called Blind Faith Group that my producer Audius owned. I worked with their team, got my management and focused on getting me out of my crust and my bubble. I was really shy so I had to work on being out there, recording more, vocal training and just preparing myself for having to step out there and be that artist. That era of time was just recording, dropping, performing here and there. In the third year, I landed this really dope concert at Haifa festival, one of the big festivals in Zim, where I headlined my own show on the main stage. That was terrific for me. We wanted to break into the South African market so Blind Faith spoke to Anashe, another company based in the States and they aided us to link up with a couple of producers in South Africa. I would travel in and out from Zim and SA to go and work with a couple of producers. The one time when I got to South Africa, I recall my flight had been deferred and there was a friend on the plane who I knew from home. We arrived late so my pal said, “You can use my guy.”
In the midst of all of that happening, the taxi cab driver, Blessing, who was also from home and speaks Shona happens to know DJ Maphorisa. Blessing started transporting me to my recording meetings. You know when you encounter someone for the first time, you’re still gravitating towards them and then you get more and more relaxed with them? Blessing, in the end, asked me what I did and what I was about and I told him I was an artist. That’s when he was like, “I know this guy.” I met Maphorisa in 2017, I sang him one of my ballads. We have been working together since. From then on, everything just started changing.
When would you say was the first time you felt that you had cracked the SA market?
I was working with artists, mostly featuring on people’s songs to be honest. I knew that at some point one of those tunes was going to make it in some way. I was mainly trying to collaborate with artists but the strategy was to end up being full front, I was constructing towards that. That was with “Akulaleki” (by Samthing Soweto and produced by DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small) mid-2019. That December was crazy, it’s when I realised that people were really vybing with that song, hearing mad masses sing my song back to me. And also when all my other songs came up, I dropped my single, “Tender Love,” then there was “Love You Tonight.”
What has it been like moving into the centre arena from choirs, backup singing and featuring to who you are now?
Honestly, in the beginning, it was overwhelming, but thrilling at the same time. Then the truth hit me and I thought there’s also my family that I also need to give time to because everything was so hectic, things coming at you quick. You can get lost in the craze, so I had to really dig a little bit more into who I am, where I’m from to stay calm and grounded. It’s been an exhilarating roller-coaster, I’m grateful it has gotten to this point. It seemed so mindboggling when I was in Mutare, telling my parents I wanted to do music.
And then the national lockdown was announced as you were gaining momentum.
In the beginning, I was bummed and thought that the state was bad. But being home, I started to reflect, looking round my apartment house and being thankful for the little things that I have, seeing things in a different way. It cut me out of the noise. It’s helped me so much because I’ve been able to tap into myself more and be grateful for certain things a little bit more. It’s been very divine for me. It has also given me more time to work on my album which I’m dropping soon. I write and record from home, sometimes I get producers to help me make things sound the way I hear them in my brain. Other times, producers send me beats and I write onto them and then record myself.
I don’t want to say anything yet, I like surprising people. The only thing I can share with you is to expect variety.
— BET Africa (@BET_Africa) June 28, 2020