“She had no wish of pursuing music as a profession. Her eyes were set on either becoming a doctor or an aeronautical engineer. Raised by a mother who conducted several choirs exposed her to singing at a very young age. Before enrolling for a music qualification, she was already singing with well established gospel outfits which paved a way for her to study music”
Eldorado Park born vocalist Zarcia Zacheus is a curious creator and lover of beautiful things. Most people simply know her as Zarcia whose debut album “Therapy” won the Best Jazz Album at the 2019 Mzantsi Jazz Awards. She is a homebody, loves laughing and spending quality time with her family. Both her parents are pastors and community leaders. “My parents taught us to lead with love”, she told Jazz It Out. Their love for people and the ability to just love so openly and freely inspired her since she was a little girl.
Her mom had a huge influence on her when she was young. “My mom and my sisters are the reason I fell in love with music”, she recalls. Zarcia began music in church at age 9 by singing in all the choirs that her mom conducted. At the age of 13, she auditioned and landed a role in her first professional stage production “My Girl” which was a show of golden oldies staged at the Gold Reef City Theatre. One of her mom’s colleagues recommended Zarcia and her sisters to the creators of the show. They passed the audition and got to perform a few songs.
Despite being very shy at school, Zarcia played hockey for her school’s team. Her primary focus though was on academics. She listened to Tamia, Boys II Men, Deborah Cox, Whitney Houston, Yolanda Adams, Jill Scott, Shirley Ceasar, Jimmy Swaggart and her favourite was Mariah Carey. Her ambition was to become a medical doctor, and later an aeronautical engineer, then a pharmacist. “But I ended up with Joyous Celebration that year and I just ended with it”, a decision that her parents supported. “It was not a difficult conversation at all”, she added.
She was accepted at Wits drama school before enrolling for a music degree. “I was also accepted to study B Comm Accounting at Wits and accepted to study Engineering at the University of Johannesburg (UJ)”, indicating her options. She completed a Bachelor of Music (Honours) at Wits University, majoring in both Jazz Performance and Composition where she studied with Jonathan Crossley, Edith Klug and Dr Carlo Mombelli.
Studying at Wits was such an eye opener for this musician. “My favourite part of studying at the institution was the sense of community I had access to”, she told Jazz It Out. Some of the fellow students turned professional musicians that she met at Wits include Thembinkosi Mavimbela, Thapelo Lekoane, Kazleigh Straughtfill, Jean Louise-Nel Parker, and Andrew Orkin. As a music undergraduate, Zarcia performed at restaurant gigs. But she was already active in the industry after touring with Joyous Celebration and other gospel artists.
Looking back, she thinks that studying music at Wits is one of her best decisions. “Everything I do today, I learnt at Wits”, she emphasized. Music Business was made compulsory and that has made her journey as an independent artist from an admin perspective much simpler. The tertiary institution also concentrated on digital music which equipped her for the music career that lay ahead. She is a versatile vocalist who is comfortable with both jazz and gospel music.
Pastor Benjamin Dube, Dave Koz, The Johannesburg Festival Orchestra, Feya Faku, Andile Yenana, Ziza Muftic and Sydney Mnisi are some of the artists and groups she has worked with. “The experience gained from working with such accomplished musicians is priceless. From learning so much in the rehearsal processes and performance practices”, she said. Zarcia acknowledges that there is so much one can learn at a tertiary institution, but being on the road and on stage with other musicians exposes one to the practical side of the industry. She loves performing just about everywhere and intimate venues are her favourite. “I have performed at the Ladies In Blues Festival, Road to Joy of Jazz and smaller concerts around the country”, she added.
Her debut album “Therapy” was released in 2018 where she expressed feelings and emotions she was going through at the time. The recording was produced by Luyanda Madope. She describes Madope as a man who loves and is dedicated to music. “It was a great pleasure working with him”, with a sense of accomplishment. “I felt like I had something to say through the album, a story to share and it felt like the right time to put some of my own music out”, she added. Zarcia managed to write about hurt, healing and loving again.
“Breathe” is about a bit of meltdown she was having trying to talk to herself processing what was happening to her. “Resentment” is about the bitterness, hurt and thought process that happens just before leaving a really toxic relationship for good. “Soveel Vrae” is essentially a conversation she had with herself when love showed up in a different manner. “This prompted a series of questions trying to get to the bottom of it all. I guess that there are no answers to these kinds of questions, but still is a necessity in the process of trying to understand love and life”, a song which means “so many questions” in English.
Breathe – Zarcia
Zarcia’s debut album won the Best Jazz Album at the Mzantsi Jazz Awards in 2019 and was glad that hounding Luyanda Madope for years to get him to produce her album yielded good results. “I was elated, more especially because this award was the result of voting by the people who support my work”, recalling the feeling she had on that memorable evening. She is currently completing her Masters Degree in Interactive Media Design at Wits University. In her final year as a music student, they did a collaborative project with the students from Digital Arts and was sold on it. “It gave me an opportunity to combine two of my top interests, music and technology. I decided to enroll for the degree”, with pride of making another great decision in her career.
The Covid-19 has taught Zarcia that artists are not exploring enough of the digital space. “I am actively seeking ways to create and share content now that everything is online”, she told Jazz It Out. Another lesson from the pandemic is that they are entirely on their own as artists. “It’s just us and those who support our work”, she added. Her favourite artists are Yolanda Adams, Lizz Wright, Gregory Porter, Langa Mavuso, Titi Luzipo, Ziza Muftic, Mandisi Dyantyis, and Lindiwe Maxolo. She has just been introduced to the music of Maro and she is currently reigning as her new favourite.
She loves hiking and is always looking for a DIY project to dig into. “I have also recently got some plants I enjoy taking care of”, she said. The artist who writes beautiful and honest songs straight from the heart can be followed on Twitter @ZarciaZA and Instagram @zarciaza. Her Facebook Page is Zarcia Zacheus. Subscribe to her YouTube channel Zarcia.