17/08/2017 15:18 SAST | Updated 17/08/2017 15:18 SAST

Freshly Ground’s Zolani Mahola Is Making Her Theatrical Debut Tonight

She drew on her childhood experiences for her character.


"Calling Me Home", a new African musical looking at the life faced by refugees seeking to find their place in a new culture, premieres on Friday night at Joburg Theatre.

With an original score that mixes classical, African hybrid, jazz and traditional folk styles, the new production also boasts a star-studded cast including Zolani Mahola, lead singer of South African Afropop group Freshlyground.

"I studied theatre at UCT, but Freshly Ground got going when I was in my third year, so I got a little experience in the theatre, but nothing professionally," Mahola told HuffPost SA between final rehearsals this afternoon. "This is such a welcome return to this space. I actually didn't realize just how much I missed working in theatre, and creating a theatrical work."

With the lead of @callingmehomemusical @lynelle_kenned. Having fun putting this show together with such an incredible cast! @joburgtheatre from this August 17. It's beautiful, moving and world class. Come!📷@oscaroryan

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Mahola's character Lindiwe is fleeing an abusive relationship. "This character has gone through a lot of hardships, from a male partner, and patriarchy really, but she escapes. She still has a life though, a brave one, and has a sense of hope about her, which so many African, and South African women have. But it's about the resilience of the human spirit really."

During the interview with Mahola, the topic of her own childhood struggle with abuse came up. 'Yeah, as a kid I definitely had a battle, for sure. But having to overome that in my adult life is something I can bring to this character, who is quite a strong woman," she says.

It took a bit of adjustment for Mahola to sing in a 'musical style', but the production isn't the typical Broadway belter, she says. "It's a musical, and there is that musical theatre thing, that style, but the writer of the songs always reminds me that the way that I sing is the reason that I have been cast in this production. But it is easy to want to, particularly in those big cast numbers, where you wanna go with that particular style. The part was written with my voice in mind, so I'm just trying to do me."

Is she nervous for her big debut? "Yeah, I'm feeling really nervous about choreography, it's not my strong point. But I danced really well in the rehearsals, so I'm just hoping that I come right tonight."