The first runner up in Zambia’s Celtel Star Search, Viola has recorded her debut album in Cape Town and is on track to cementing her enormous popularity in Zambia and beyond.Viola has been involved in music since she was a child, when her uncle played the guitar for the children in her family. She sang at church, becoming praise and worship leader as a teenager. At high school she gathered a reputation from the moment she arrived – winning the singing contest at school for her house earned her a reputation as the school diva. So it’s no surprise that her best friend entered her for the Celtel Star Search competition, but Viola was reluctant.
After finishing school she dabbled in music competitions and was disappointed. “I felt like those competitions were pre-arranged, that corruption always ensured that certain people would be winners while others had no chance.” Working as a cashier at “Fantasyland” in Lusaka, she felt settled. But her friend pressed her, and she decided to speak to her family. Her uncle reminded her of the first time she had sung in public, when a band she was watching at Lusaka’s Chainama Hotel asked her to come to the stage. Her rendition of Don Williams’ “Listen to the Radio” was so well received that she won a meal for two at the hotel – this at the age of ten! She decided to give the Celtel Star Search a go.
The preliminary rounds saw thousands of people from all over the country reduced to just 120, who would take part in the “Star School” stage. Viola sailed through. Here, the number would be whittled down to the eighteen who were to be the contenders in the televised competition. During this week, the contestants received training for different aspects of their performance – dance, song and demeanour. Viola cemented her friendship with Theo, whom she already knew from a previous competition, and Kapuka. Her talent, passion for music and deep knowledge of the music material used in the first phases of the Star Search, saw her making the final thirty without any problems, then the cut to the final eighteen.
The televised show turned everyone involved into a celebrity, and none more so than Viola. “The people were on my side, even when the judges slated my performance.” After a particularly tough task, where Viola was asked to dance to a fast rhythm, the judges made fun of the fact that she was breathing heavily – implying that perhaps if she lost some weight she might find it easier – but the public made their support clear and voted her number one of all the contestants. She had been consistently voted in the top rankings and by the final night, despite an unlucky draw that saw her perform first, she received the boost of votes she needed to get her into the top three.
Viola’s prize was a trip to Cape Town, where she recorded her debut album, simply called “Viola”. South Africa holds a special place in her heart (after her first trip, to Johannesburg, she even asked her mother if maybe there was something she hadn’t been told about her father’s nationality…) and Cape Town worked it’s magic on her too. “To be recording in such a beautiful place, the music becomes a part of you, you aren’t just performing, you actually feel that it is a part of your soul”.
A true performer, she collaborates with songwriters she feels a connection with. Many of the songs deal with issues that young women are faced with worldwide – a recurring theme is the message not to trust men with matters of love. In a country as badly hit by HIV as Zambia, there’s certainly a deeper message there. In one of the tracks on her album, she actually sings in the South African language Xhosa, cementing her bid as an African, rather than simply Zambian artist.
Simon “Ghettochild” Sibanda, who produced the album, and who wrote “…..”, the Xhosa song on the CD, has only good words to say about Viola. “She has real power in her voice” he says, and he believes she will undoubtedly become another one in the line of exceptional divas from Southern Africa.
But it’s the Zambian producers she worked with that she credits with creating the unique sound that is Viola. “They brought out the best in me” she says of Chippoh “Hatman” Makwembo, Mubanga (MKV) and Chali “Bravo” Mulalami. As a Zambian, it may be no surprise that her greatest inspiration is Maureen Lilanda, the country’s much loved female vocalist. And although she would be too humble to admit that she may be following in her footsteps, Viola is honoured to be following where Maureen has led.
In the words of Yoel Kenan, director of Runway Music, “Viola is a African woman full of energy, warmth and love. Her music is no different.” The Celtel Star Search unearthed her, but the performer that she is would have broken out at some stage. One hearing of her album will justify that.