In the waning days of the apartheid era, in the midst of her often crowded home in Port Elizabeth, Zonke Dikana would receive a call from her grandmother.
Vuysile Viva Dikana, her father, was on television.
The young girl would stop what she was doing, run over to her grandmother’s house and watch her father, whose name means “he who brings joy,” play drums and sing.
The elder Dikana, a self-taught perfectionist who recorded a song with Simply Red on their 1995 album “Life”, was already separated from Zonke’s mother and spent weeks at a time on the road.
As a result, he rarely saw his three daughters.
But the memory of his having been an engaged parent and his nurturing of her musical passion during her childhood and early adulthood bonded Zonke to him.
“He told me I didn’t need to go to school,” she told me on a recent Sunday afternoon meeting at my dear friends Nthutuko Bhengu and Tobeka Boltina’s house in Johannesburg’s Sommerset neighborhood. Slender and elegant, she wore a sleeveless button down shirt, snugly fitting blue jeans and high heels with multi- colored beads.
“As long as you have a good ear, you’ll be fine, school for music would be a plus,” her father told her.
The elder Dikana died in 2009 at age 56, but the daughter is continuing the family legacy of musical achievement.
Ina Ethe her latest album, shows the elder Dikana’s imprint in multiple ways.
In the work, Zonke pays tribute to the man who formed her in several songs, particularly “Viva the Legend,” a title that simultaneously calls her father’s name and hearkens back to the political struggle during the apartheid regime.
“People hear title and think the song is about Mandela,” she said. “I tell them to read the lyrics.”
Like her father, Zonke is always tinkering and looking for ways to improve her craft. The album is the product of an organic creative process in which tunes are constantly bouncing around her head.
Melodies come first, followed by lyrics, she said.
“I get very little sleep,” she said with a chuckle. “I have bags under my eyes.”
While she has strong memories of people fleeing police beatings and worse during the 1980s, Zonke is not a political songwriter per se. At times she addresses key social issues her work-in Germany, for example, she sang about AIDS. But she does so from a non-dogmatic and explicit place, preferring instead to go where her creative flow leads her.
With Ina Ethe, it flowed toward love.
Love for her father. Love for music. And love of life.
Released in October 2011, the album, her fourth and the first since both parents died (her mother died in 2006), also marks a significant step forward for the 30-year-old as an creative force on the national and international music scene.
In it she added producer to her previous song writing and singing talents. Her earlier work consisted of two albums recorded in Hanover, Germany, one with Culture Clan and the other a solo effort, and “Life, Love and Music,” a disc released in 2007 by Universal in South Africa.
In so doing, she entered rare air in the South African performance scene as a black woman fully in control of all aspect of the creative process.
Zonke’s also spearheaded promotion on her most recent project.
She’s found success with it.
Since its release in October 2011, the album has already reached double-platinum status, with substantial sales all over the country, she said.
Singles include Nameless, Jikizinto, Viva the legend, Sobabini, and Feelings.
Her touring has taken her to Kenya and Uganda, a gig that the royal family attended. Her performance there earned her an invitation to play at an upcoming family wedding.
Up next: a collaboration with Anthony Hamilton.
He’ll be coming to South Africa just as work winds down for the year to talk about the song they want to do together.
She plans to go to South Carolina early next to work with Hamilton on his home turf.
Zonke does not hide her global ambitions-“Who wouldn’t want to be known all over the world?” she asked-and is not afraid to fail in her quest to reach her goal.
But whatever the ultimate result of happens with her individual pursuits, she knows that she will be working in the same field in which her father labored intensely and joyfully for close to half a century.
“Music is what I’ll always do,” she declared. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.
“If my voice fails, I’ll produce someone else’s work,” Zonke said.