Bonginkos Dlamini is a South African musician, poet, actor, television and radio presenter. He is more popularly known as Zola 7.
According to Wikipedia Bonginkosi Dlamini was born on 24 April 1977 and grew up in Zola, a township of Soweto, notoriously known for its high crime rate. It is his childhood home town from which he adopted his name. Unemployment, alcoholism, and single parent families are very common in Zola. Dlamini’s father, believed to be part of the Mchunu clan, abandoned the family, leaving his mother to care for him and his older brother and sister when they were young. Zola himself served time in prison as a juvenile for car theft.
Zola’s first big break in the entertainment industry came via acting when he took over the role of Papa Action in the second season of the television series “Yizo Yizo”. The character of Papa Action was already a popular one portrayed by Ronnie Nyakale.
According to the reports Ronnie was pressured to leave the role of Papa Action by his family as they felt the role was making him more enemies than friends. People on the streets reportedly started to treat him like him like a gangster in real life.
Zola who is said to resemble Ronnie was awarded the role of Papa Action in season two of Yizo Yizo and as the saying goes. The rest is history.
Zola also got into Kwaito while he was on Yizo Yizo where he released the song Ghetto Fabulous as part of the Yizo Yizo 2 soundtrack.
Originally, Zola was not a fan of Kwaito music, because he felt it had no message. He has taken upon himself to change this, viewing himself as a role model he said “I want to inspire a guy from the ghetto so he can stop hanging around in the corner begging and start hustling and making something of themselves.”
Zola would sign to Ghetto Ruff records and On the 1st May 2000, Bonginkosi Dlamini released his debut album, Umdlwembe under the stage name, Zola.
This album was produced by Kaybee through Ghetto Ruff. The album did well in the market and achieved sales of more than 80 000 units within a short time.
In South African music 80 000 and more units mean you have reached platinum sales. Mdlwembe went on to win best kwaito music album and Zola was voted artist of the year in the Standard Bank SAMA 8.
For an artist who wasn’t into Kwaito he went on to redefine. Kwaito always had difficulty reinventing itself and finding its next step.
In the 1990s there was a slight variance in artists such as TKZee, B.O.P, Mandoza, Arthur, Mdu and Guffy who would produce kasi-centric dance floor anthems for the summer. The genre’s lyrical content lacked diversity and was mostly about parties, cars and of course women.
All this changed in 2000 when Zola released his debut album uMdlwembe. Lyrically, it is an irresponsible body of work; his subject matter revolves mostly around guns and violence. In the introduction, which sets the tone for the album, two friends were just kicking it, when one was shot in what appeared to be a drive-by shooting, leaving a friend crying his lungs out. Zola, latching on to Papa Action, the character he played on the hit TV series Yizo Yizo, shows himself to be a relentless, trigger-happy thug. He speaks of shooting in almost every song on the album.
Zola was more blatant with his lyrics and never really tip-toed about being from the ghetto.
On the title track Mdlwembe your hear lines such as “Mas’fika kuleyo ndawo kuyosal’abafelokazi,” (We will make widows on our arrival) and “Buddy lami ukhomba mina, uhlale wazi eyamadoda ayipheli,” (Men’s beef never ends) the eye-for-an-eye mentality.
uMdlwembe is a dark album, showing a young man trapped by the ghetto, trying to get out by any means necessary.
- Umdlwembe (2000)
- Khokhovula (2002)
- Bhambatha (2004)
- Ibutho (2005)
- Tsotsi (soundtrack of the 2005 motion picture)
- Impepho (2009)
- Unyezi (2011)
- Intathakusa (2014)
- Yizo Yizo (season 2)
- Zola 7
- Rolling with Zola
- Zabalaza (season 3)
- aYeYe (season 1)
- Isibaya (seasons 3 and 4)
- iNkaba (season 1)
- Utatakho (season 1)
- Zaziwa (season 1)
- Hope With Zola
Zola has also appeared in movies such as Drum in 2004 and the Academy Award winning film Tsotsi in 2005.
He has four South African Music Awards – SAMA
- Artist of the Year – 2002
- Best Soundtrack – Yizo Yizo
- Best Music Video – Ghetto Scandalous
- Best Kwaito Album – Umdlwembe
He also received three Metro FM Awards 2001
- Song of the Year – Ghetto Scandalous
- Best Album of the Year – Umdlwembe
- Best Kwaito Album – Umdlwembe
The multi talented Zola continues to ride the wave of entertainment success and even landed a job on the airwaves as part of online station Massiv Metro.
Massiv Metro is an urban radio station delivering authentic content and music to the commuter market in Johannesburg that was founded by DJ Sbu.
What happened to Zola
Considering that Lance Stehr of Ghetto Ruff records once referred to Zola as “the second biggest brand in the country next to Nelson Mandela” we can’t imagine the name and influence of Zola being forgotten anytime soon.
So let’s start at the music. The last studio album from Zola is 2014 Intathakusa. In the same year there were reports that Zola had started his own record label called Guluva Entertainment. Intathakusa was released under Guluva Entertainment. Since then Zola has released singles here and there.
Zola has spoken about what happened to him during his time at Ghetto Ruff that is now Called Muthaland Entertainment.
In an interview with Radio 2000’s Phat Joe and The Family Zola said “We were being booked under Ghetto Ruff and we were not aware of the booking fee. Promoters will tell you your worth but the record label will tell you something else and sales were not fully disclosed at the end of the year.”
Zola went on to say that people were starting trust funds for their babies with their hit songs.
Hinting at mismanagement of the money that was supposed to come to him.
Looking at his hit television show Zola 7 that aired from 2002 to 2010 on SABC1.
When it comes to his show Zola 7 that helped many South Africans he says that there’s more trouble in the streets when it comes to the youth and they need to be guided.
Zola said the following about the behind the scene politics that eventually lead to the end of the show “There were budget politics and with a show like that (Zola 7) you need millions because there’s a lot of traveling that you need to do.”
Zola would get another show called Hope With Zola on Moja Love in October 2018. The last episode I could find from Hope with Zola is in early 2019. There are no statements on whether or not the show has been cancelled or is on a production break.
There have been reports and rumours that Zola was broke and lost his house and moved back to Dobsonville with his mother. There are rumours that he was married for 16 years and has 3 children with the women. There are also allegations of abuse.
Zola has come out to address those rumours and said that he has not abused anyone. He even went on to say that he was never married.
The “broke” part Zola has come out this year to talk about why he feels some artists die broke. The reason was along the lines that South African support American content more than they do their own.
He said “until we conquer TV and change it and send ideas of Africans and sell ideas of South Africa, then the grown ups are gonna continue saying the youth is lost.”
Despite Zola denying the allegations of abuse and releasing a statement according to the reports those accusations seem to have ruined his chances of receiving the Lifetime Achievement award from the South African Music Awards (SAMA’s).
The official statement from RiSA CEO Nhlanhla Sibisi was “We received a number of nominations for Lifetime Achievement Award which were considered by the board. After a lengthy deliberation, the number was reduced to three and later to two. The decision of the board on Lifetime Achievement Award is final.”
Sowetan initially reported that Zola 7 was listed as one of the three possible recipients of a lifetime achievement award during this year’s proceedings.
This year only Bishop Benjamin Dube and Dan Tshanda received the Lifetime Achievement award and Zola was reportedly informed a week before the show that he would no longer be getting the award. This news is said to have crushed Zola’s spirit.
Ending this with music. In 2020 October Zola has promised fans an encouraging album soon. Zola wrote on Instagram “Fact is that I’ve survived it all (all the things the youth is going through or about to) so hang in there. I’ve been working, new music is on the way. Hail Nyovest for #Bonginkosi and #Hlengiwe.Your blessings have already been placed (dear youth) in your path. You just don’t know it yet #namanje!!!”
It is good to see Zola back in the studio and we can’t wait for the album.