Work of Heart, released on 11 September lets us into the heart, mind and soul of this thoughtful musician, and that she wrote, produced and performed all the songs makes it that much better to listen to. The growth from her previous album, Ina Ethe, which was released almost four years ago is evident from the moment you press play.

“One thing I haven’t done differently is to be honest. You know, I’m always honest in my songwriting – I don’t have to think outside myself. And with every album I want to improve on my writing because I feel people are worth it,” she told DESTINY.

Where she has seen her own growth is in the production of the album. Because of her love for old-school soul, Zonke deliberately chose old-school sounds to accompany her.

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Within all three of her albums, including this one, a deep-set grief that Zonke’s clearly been working through has been evident – and somehow this has been conveyed in the genuine emotion with which every song is sung.

“When you’re a songwriter there’s no way you can avoid a grief you’re experiencing. Fortunately, or maybe unfortunately for me, I always write from a place of honesty and I think that’s why my pains and joys always translate well into my music,” she says. “And I guess they say the best songs come from grief because I think that’s the one thing we share as human beings, and the one thing most people are able to relate to.”

Zonke admits that in the past she she was afraid of people knowing her deepest thoughts. She had this concern about her hit single Feelings, which she says wasn’t even supposed to be on the Ina Ethe album, until she bravely decided to put her truth out there.

For a long time, a musician who didn’t have a diploma or a degree in music would be ridiculed by those who did – but music is a feeling, it’s heartfelt, it’s a God-given talent

“I felt so exposed on Feelings, until I realised that people actually don’t care – people want to listen to something honest and to something they can relate to, and that’s why with Work of Heart, I’ve really been able to let go and be unafraid and unapologetic in the deliverance of my own personal truth,” she said.

Emphasis on quality

When you think “Zonke” the first two things that immediately jump to mind are “amazing all-round musician” and “a woman who never compromises on quality”.

“To me quality is everything! I’ve always wanted to set myself apart from the big pool of people we have in this industry, and I think quality was just one way to do that. Sometimes I have moments when I just ask myself why I even bother, because in South Africa, sometimes anything goes – sometimes even the quality of songs I hear playing on our radio stations have me thinking ‘OK? Is this song actually done?’. But instead of just joining that lot, I will never compromise on quality,” she says.

The market has started to pick up on her attention to detail and it’s one of her ‘hook’ factors. There’s no need to think twice when buying a Zonke album because you know you’re getting a quality product.

“I constantly go back to my albums and pull out the things I could be doing better: you need to sustain more when you sing, you need to be a little clearer with your phrasing, you were mumbling a bit here, and when you ad-lib you need to do this a bit more are some of the notes I’ll make to myself,” Zonke explains.

Zonke the producer

“I think I’ve always been a producer, but I just didn’t trust myself. We always think that something needs to be on paper before we can have full faith in ourselves. For a long time, a musician who didn’t have a diploma or a degree in music would be ridiculed by those who did – but music is a feeling, it’s heartfelt, it’s a God-given talent. School should be seen as a honing tool and not the be-all and end-all of what qualifies a musician,” she says.

Often people don’t want to believe that Zonke is a producer in the full sense of the word. This is something she says she’s always found weird as people would immediately believe it if a man proclaimed the same thing. She’s even considered making a documentary focusing on how she works in studio so that people will take her seriously.

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“Quality is something we need to get used to in this country, anything local we tend to second-guess and I think we need to put that to bed. I’m sure I’m not the only female who does that, but no one seems to care to highlight it,” she says.

“I would probably be on the cover of every magazine if I was a guy, you know how every couple of years there’s this guy given the title ”super producer’ who makes hits for everybody? Well, when it’s a woman nobody does that because I’ve written great hits for many people,” Zonke went on to say.

Work of Heart truly is a spectacular example of what South African musicians are capable of and the power they hold within themselves to create something that will forever be embedded in the history of the country’s musical landscape. We appreciate Zonke’s reminder that we don’t have to compromise, that there is great benefit in hard work and patience and that music is not just a work of art, but a work of heart.

Buy a copy of her latest album here.