QUIET and unassuming, Â are the impressions Â one would Â first best describe Zimbabwean born, SA based musician, popularly known as Berita, — that is until she warms up and talks about her lifeâ€™s passion music.
Her eyes immediately light up and her trademark voice firms up when this reporter asks her about what she thinks of being called â€œthe Zahara of Zimbabwe.â€ Or the new “Zahara”, as the first question in the interview.
Instead of feeling complimented Berita states emphatically:
â€œThatâ€™s a strange title because you know as an upcoming artist I have my own vision and I do not hope to be called the new someone else. I have much respect for other musicians in my genre but I do not wish to be called someone else,â€ says the youthful musician in an exclusive interview at her recording studios in Johannesburgâ€™s Balfour Park.
The 23 year old musician instead chooses to introduce herself saying: â€œ I was actually born, Gugulethu Khumalo, who grew in Nketa (Bulawayo),â€ saying the name Berita is her motherâ€™s name which she took up as her stage name when she recorded her first album.
â€œItâ€™s a name I adopted when I started my music career because music is very special to me and as young woman in the music industry I wanted to come out very strong and truthful and that embodies what I want to be. I hope to make music that is truthful, that is honest,â€ she says .
She adds: â€œIn fact I didnâ€™t ask her for the name but Â I stole the name and the first time she (Beritaâ€™s mother) discovered this is when I made my first recording, and then she sent me a message on facebook telling what it meant, which is truthful in Latin.â€
The artist who has made a name for herself for her hit song Thandolwethu from her first album The Conquering Spirit says it was actually by accident that she left Zimbabwe for South Africa after a brief stint of living in New Zealand with her parents.
Unlike most Zimbabweans at that time that she did not deliberately leave seeking greener pastures like most Zimbabweans who have migrated here.
â€œ I realised that even during the time that I was in New Zealand that my heart was always in Africa, my heart was always in Nketa, where my grandmother lived,â€ she says adding it was her failure to find an open vacancy at universities in Zimbabwe (because they had all been filled) did she start looking at South Africa as an option.
â€œAfter calling around again with no luck did I finally find a place at Walter Sisulu in the Eastern Cape,â€ narrates Berita.
Albeit her passion for music, particularly playing the guitar, was something she had already developed much to her parents dismay who felt she needed to concentrate on studying and needed to leave her â€œbeloved â€œguitar behind.
â€œI insisted on carrying my guitar, and there was a big fight at home, they were like leave the guitar I said no I am sorry, it came to me carrying one suitcase I said I told myself I can drop the shoes, I can drop the clothes, but I was not going to leave my guitar(because they were worried that it would distract me). But secretly I knew and I didnâ€™t know how I knew but I knew I was going to make, I believed in my dreams and I knew it was going to happen. I had written one song then,â€ says Berita.
But unlike her parents at home she got a lot of encouragement from people in the Eastern Cape who would ask her to play for them, until she started playing at school events, on Heritage Day functions, municipal council days and many other occasions.
â€œThe response got more and more positive. Then in early 2012, when she was visiting an uncle in Johannesburg, he too appreciated her music and took her to community radio station, Alex FM, where she played.
â€œThe response was amazing, I remember it was a Friday morning and people were calling and saying this girl is beautiful, so instead of going home after the radio show Flash the man(an Alex FM DJ) took me to a recording studio, which is run by Tammy Mdluli, who after singing for him was impressed with me, says Berita.
The rest as they say is history as Berita started working on what was to become her first album, The Conquering Spirit featuring the hit song Thandolwethu in 2012, which saw her win the METRO best African pop album in 2013 and this year the album finally went gold, get nominated for the South African Traditional Music Awards(SATMAâ€™s) 2013 and she is also been nominated for the SA edition of the Zimbabwe Achievers Award 2014.
Not one to rest on her laurels she hopes to take what she calls her southern African sound to the world through her upcoming album, which will be released this month called Songs of Empowerment.
â€œI would like to take my southern African sound to the world,â€ she says with a glow.
â€œI am a soul singer, I sing what is in my heart and I like to play my guitar. People will get me to know me more, in my first album most know Thandolwethu, but this album will be different. I want them to know all of the songs and then go back and buy my first album,â€ she says.
Berita says her mentors are Zimbabwean singer Oliver Mtukudzi and South African jazz singer Hugh Masekela.
â€œThey are my musical fathers I have spent quite a lot of time with them, Â just sitting with them an d learning from their experiences as artists who have travelled the world. I love learning from them and I have learn’t a lot from them.â€
Though she does not want to talk much about what the new album contains she says the album is in English Ndebele and Shona and Xhosa ballads, with a song with Mtukudzi.
But despite all these achievements Berita says it has not all been a bed of roses for herand that she has had a fair share of lifeâ€™s challenges and setbacks such as being involved in a car accident, living away from her home country and simply being a young woman in a very competitive industry.
â€œIin my first album called Menziwa, which is in isiXhosa says â€˜ I donâ€™t sleep well, I wake up still angry, I am a victim of circumstance, a victim of my country not really my country but my society.â€
But Berita takes all this in with surprising maturity for one of her age and says all in all she has blended well in her adopted country South Africa, while at the same time proudly acknowledging her Zimbabwean roots.
â€œâ€œI love being Zimbabwean and I am proud of my roots although most people are surprised that I am Zimbabwean but its mostly because of my fluency in isi Xhosa, but I never hide who I am,â€ she says on being a foreigner in South Africa.
â€œI have been an immigrant since I was 16 years old and I know opportunities are not the same compared to those who are from there. But I have learnt that you make the best of what you have, whatever you are doing, if you are conquering it doesnâ€™t matter in which country are in, God sets you challenges wherever you are to make you strong, I am a citizen of the world and I believe I could be in Greece now and I would still be recording my second album, â€œ she says chuckling.
On the future, Berita says she will get on with her music career for as long as she can just like her mentors Mtukudzi and Masekela who have played for diverse audience Â worldwide.
â€œMusic is not a destination but you just keep going like ubaba UMtukudzi, the sky is the limit. I want to travel the world. I have a lot of ideas and I want to be a world class performer.”
“I have projects I have planned for here (in South Africa) and in Zimbabwe.â€
However as it gets dark and the interview comes to an end, Beritaâ€™s parting shot is: â€œ Itâ€™s not where you are, which country you live in but itâ€™s what you put and what is meant to be.â€