“With a mother and siblings that were very involved in music, it became clear from the onset as to which direction her career path would take. She is a highly gifted vocalist who uses her dance and facial expression to interpret every song she sings.  Her live performances always leave the audiences mesmerized and asking for more. Xolisa’s third album can only be described as sheer brilliance”

Singer, vocal coach and song writer Xolisa Dlamini has fond memories of growing up in the Eastern Cape village of Rode.  She recalls a rockery with different flowers, bells, lilies, petals and carpet of snow that were all visible through the bedroom window.  The back of the house had a vegetable garden with mealies, pumpkins. “My mother created an environment for us to dream.  And for me the picture was nothing is impossible”, she told Jazz It Out.  Despite the challenges facing the globe, the wife and mother to three children is still as optimistic as she was when she was as a child.

From being calm, consistent, focused, diligent, loyal, kind, and committed when she was younger, she has matured into a global citizen who is still consistent, ambitious, particular and empathetic.  Her English and Music teacher mom, who passed away in 1993, would buy Xolisa and her six siblings vinyl records of their favourite music genre.  She was just 5 years old when her father passed away.  Ali Katt, Brenda Fassie, Miriam Makeba, Stompie Mavi, Sankomota, Peter Tosh, Bob Marley, The Temptations were her favourite artists and groups.  At classroom, she enjoyed History, English and Creative Art.

Umtata Christian Church played a major role in nurturing Xolisa’s talent as a young woman.  She would always look forward to showcase her talent at the Sunday service as a singer after going through rehearsals during the week.  Despite considering enrolling for a qualification in Interior Design, music was her number one choice which her mother supported wholeheartedly.  She enrolled for a diploma in music at the then Natal Technikon, now renamed Durban University of Technology (DUT).  Her lecturers included Demi Fernandez,Susan Barry, Feya Faku, Mfana Mlambo, Lex Futshane and Bheki Mseleku.

Xolisa Dlamini. Picture by Gugu Mngomezulu

Xolisa became good friends with fellow students Phumelele Bophela, Andile Ngema, Bigboy Lizwe Mkhize, Nikeziwe Ntshangase and Nontukuso Mlangeni. “While still studying, I was very fortunate to perform at venues like Rivets, Rainbow Restaurant, Bargos, The Bat Centre and The Playhouse”, looking back to where it all started.  “This gave me confidence and taught me how to master the skill of stage presentation”, she added.  By the time she graduated in 1999, she was already making a name for herself as a musician.  Together with musicians Thandukwazi Skhosana and Swazi Dlamini, the trio collectively won the Radio Metro Song competition in 1997.

After winning the national finals of the Old Mutual Jazz Competition in the vocal category in October 2000, Xolisa went to record with sensational guitarist Selaelo Selota.  She worked with Selaelo on the album “Enchanted Gardens” featured on tracks “Baya Ndiphatha phatha” and “Hlokomela”.  Her debut album “Times” was released in 2003.  It was produced by Shaluza Max Mntambo and featured the likes of Mncedi Kupa on piano, Vuyo Shiburi on bass and Kwazi Shange on guitar. Her second album “Afro Blue” was released in 2010.  The album earned her more recognition as a female composer.  “Ndim ndedwa” is a love song that she dedicated to her husband for the love he gives to her and their children.  Also included in the recording is a song “Umjolo” which was composed by Sipho Sithole and Sipho Khoza.  Sithole also produced the album.

Xolisa has performed at festivals such as The African Traditional Festival in Norway, Awesome Africa Festival, Hazelmere Dam Jazz Festival, Moretele Park Festival, Ugu Jazz Festival, and the South African Women’s Art Festival (SAWAF).  She also performed at the Commonwealth Games hosted in London and at an event to celebrate Africa Day at the South African State TheatreSibongile Khumalo, Themba Mkhize, Sello Galane, Judith Sephuma and Hugh Masekela are just some of the artists she has shared the stage with.  The dynamic live performer has also recorded and performed with Busi Mhlongo, Serio Diaz from Brazil, Elie Kihonia from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Hansen Genzo from Australia.

A brilliant live performer. Picture by Simanga Konstant Zondo

This vocalist who is gifted with a golden voice has proven to be versatile, comfortable working with musicians from very diverse music genres.  She has earned herself many fans as an Afro Jazz artist whose music is largely influenced by her upbringing and African tradition, with a touch of R&B, neo-soul, and Afro-soul.  Her songs are about what many people experience in their lives, perhaps issues that they have been largely ignoring which she artistically brings to the attention of the listener through the music.  Xolisa’s stage performances are such a marvel to watch. A great vocalist who interacts extremely well with her band members leaving the audiences mesmerized and asking for more.  She graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Practical Music from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 2017.

In 2020 she released her third album “Fire Born” which was produced by accomplished pianist Nduduzo Makhathini.  “The reason behind the recording of this project was to share a piece of who I am and share my musical journey with Nduduzo the maestro, in order to usher the direction of Nguni music and heal through voice”, she told Jazz It Out.  Listening to the album clearly indicates that there was mutual understanding between the artist and producer at the recording of “Fire Born”.  This album differs from the previous two recordings in a sense that she was able to merge her emotions with the music, setting a direction on how urban traditional music should sound like.

She was quite thrilled to work with Nduduzo as a producer.  “It was phenomenal.  The reason I am saying this is because I’ve never worked on the project with such anticipation.  He is very creative and highly intuitive.  He was able to tap into the spirit and interpret the exact feeling”, she emphasized.  Besides Makhathini on piano, the recording features trumpeter Siyanda Zulu, saxophonist Phumlani Mtiti, trombonist Neo Mogotsi, bassist Bheka Mthethwa, guitarists Cameron Ward and Tino “Beat Boy” Damba.  Xolisa also pulled in composers such as Zolani Gqoli, Mthunzi Ndimande and Manqoba Melusi Mntungwa.  “Nguwe” is dedicated to God as an intercessory song for the nation.

Fire Born (Live)  – Xolisa Dlamini

“Ilali” is a song that carries strong elements of Nguni music which Xolisa co-composed with Nduduzo.  The idea behind the song came when she was backstage at the 2016 SAWAF which took place at The Playhouse in Durban.  The title track is a song of freedom and emancipation.  It is a song of hope for the nation that is in distress, sending a message that even the most difficult challenges will be overcome. “Ntobole” takes Xolisa back to her childhood, reminiscing on the game they used to play as such youngsters in Rode.  “Menemene Tekele” is about backstabbers who cannot be trusted as friends and associates.

“Phumelela”, “Noma Kunzima”, Kunindzi Ngawe”, and “South Africa My Home” are other songs from this brilliant recording.  All these songs portray Xolisa as good storyteller the best way she knows how.  The songs further indicate that she has never stopped believing in her dreams, completely understands who she is and most importantly which role she should play as an artist to follow her purpose in ensuring that she brings all of this into fruition.  “Fire Born” will also be remembered as one of those albums that were recorded during the lockdown.  “The pandemic and the lockdown taught me to pause, review, recharge, retrospect, rejuvenate, and do things better than before”, she said.

“Fire Born” is available on Spotify as well as in hard copies and is good to add to one’s collection.  A project that brings a lot of musical healing, hope in desperate times, a reminder of the importance of knowing your roots in order to determine what the future has in store and how to manoeuvre through the hardships that life may pose as a challenge.  Xolisa’s  career has come full circle from those early days singing in church to the acclaimed vocalist she is today.  Her Facebook account is Xolisa Roro-Gqoli Dlamini.  Follow her on Instagram @xolisa_dlamini and @Xolisa _Dlamini on Twitter.  The link to her Soundcloud is https://soundcloud.com/xolisadlamini.