With two singles released from her latest album “Surreal So Real”, I had a chat with electro-pop songstress Elo Zar. The Soweto born beauty started her journey with music by singing in the youth church and school choir. From a young age she found music to be a friend, an escape and a way of freedom. The name ‘Elo’ is derived from a nickname given to her by a fellow sound engineer student and ‘Zar’ is a reflection of being proudly made in South Africa.
Growing up in Soweto the songstress says she was often surrounded by boys and adventurous times of climbing trees and stealing fruit. “My favourite was hanging out and telling horror stories about whose family practices witchcraft and how at night one has a baboon visit them.” says Elo. She explains that this environment is where she fell in love with house music and learnt how to dance. “I’m talking Oskido’s Church Grooves, Khabzela, and all the Kwaito tunes. We sang along to Zombo and Boom Shaka.” Music was often played loudly in the township especially during cleaning times, she explains. This made her see cleaning as a “Community thing” and made chores more bearable. This made her realize the effect music had on people, which made her want to serve in the same way and make people feel the way she felt.
The artist is inspired by her flaws and emphasises that she does not feel the pressure to have everything together as yet. “My imperfections allowed me to dream and become better; they also make me human and are a constant reminder that I’m not better than anyone.” says Elo. Her sense of self awareness is what inspired her look and aim to stand out. “Pink isn’t necessarily my favourite colour, rather I like its character. Pink is perceived to be delicate or feminine and is always treated that way; however pink also has a tough side to it. It has strength and an aggression to it. Sometimes it’s comforting and easy and some of those characteristics I wish to have. “explains Elo. She emphasises that it is not always easy walking around with pink hair though especially in certain areas as there is a perception of being crazy, on drugs or a devil worshipper with such a look. Elo however takes this in stride and aims to play a supportive role in terms of identity and loving individual differences.
Although she is referred to as an electro-pop artist she explains that she dabbles in all sorts of genres and brings it into her music. She views music as an adventure and believes it should not be boxed into one definition or genre. The two singles Be It the remix and This Is It from her album “Surreal So real” have been well received. She says her Uber drivers like it every time. The only challenge is that her music is perceived as a sound from Europe, America and other places outside of Africa. “It’s as if Africa is the slow kid in the room.” She looks up to women such as Brenda Fassie and Yvonne Chaka Chaka in terms of how they made successes of their music in their continent and then globally. “I’m not crazy about international success because it will come but my Africa is more precious and worthy of choosing itself to be more than what we’re told we are.” she explains.
Elo Zar describes “Surreal So Real” as an evolution from her first album “Elogram”. She enjoyed working with her producer Laco and explains that they managed to create a more distinct and high quality production with a more consumable edge. “I’m also more confident and better established in terms of my insecurities.” She says.
Elo recently had a performance event which was meant to be at the Market Photo Workshop but got sold out which led her to relocate to the Sci-Bono. This success taught her that people want quality and will pay for it. She aims to give people an experience instead of making them feel like they owe her attention or money. She also thanks God for this. She loves mixing elements in her performances and is never alone on stage. She experiments with elements such as a huge orchestra, 8 piece band, eclectic stage or even just a 2 piece acoustic. “I mix elements because there are no limits to how I want to deliver my presentation,” She says.
This vibrant soul plans to build a school and sell out internationally in 5 years. In the near future though, she would love to collaborate with artists Nakhane Toure, Nonku Phiri, Jenny Dison, Nasty C, Busiswa Gqulu, Master A Flat and many more. “Internationally the list is long.” I believe that this is all possible for her and will happen.
Photography: Kgomotso Neto
Interview: Palesa Buyeye