Meet our #blackcoralbabe Eli Zaelo, the South African singer-songwriter whose first two singles, "Stories About Love" and "Human" have made a big splash on the music scene - not only for their catchy melodies but also due to their unique blends of her South African background mixed with Mandarin language vocals.
It’s no wonder this gifted multilingual singer is taking the world of Mandopop by storm. We had the pleasure of sitting down with her to discuss her music career, how she got to where she is today, and her biggest achievements so far.
I am a multilingual artist from Pretoria, South Africa and I have been based in Hong Kong since 2015. I sing in English, Chinese and 2 African languages namely Setswana and Zulu. Music has been a passion of mine since I can remember and I decided to venture into the industry in 2021 when I released my first batch of original music.
I auditioned for the role of Nala for the stage production of “The Lion King” in Hong Kong Disneyland back in 2014, when I was in South Africa. I was fortunate enough to land the role and Disney brought me over. After that was said and done, I decided that I wanted to stay a little while longer because I genuinely enjoyed my time in Hong Kong. So I ventured into the gigging world - singing at various hotels, renowned restaurants and even private events such as weddings etc.
I have just always loved singing and I noticed as time went by that I wasn’t half bad at it hahaha. So when I was 14 years old, my parents signed me onto an afterschool program centred around vocal lessons and I did that for 5 years, which helped me secure my Trinity Grade 8 certificate in Vocal Performance. In 2012 at the age of 19, I travelled to the USA to study music under the vocal department at the Los Angeles College of Music. I decided to audition for the Lion King upon my return to South Africa in early 2014. I was still performing in South Africa though, as the lead singer of the “Fire Proof” band. We sang for Rugby legends and at venues like Sun City, so that was a great experience as well.
I honestly just felt that it made sense at the time. When I was in Disneyland, one of the dancers introduced me to JJ Lin’s music and I did more research on the Cpop industry and was really impressed, mainly by the emphasis on storytelling and lyrical content because I felt like it had faded significantly in our modern world. I grew up listening to 90s RnB so some form of depth is important to me personally as a musician. I had written a song called “Stories About Love” which I felt would be great in Mandarin and luckily once I worked through it to have it translated with a tutor/translator it ended up being a great song so that’s where the journey began.
I don’t even think that it is intentional. It’s just an expression of who I am. I have lived in South Africa, the USA and now Hong Kong. It’s only natural for me to fuse those worlds when I talk about my life or when I approach music. In terms of genres I gravitate towards House music, RnB and Afropop the most.
I think you experience the world as you see it. That major mind shift for me has helped me a lot. I just focus on the people who DO want to hear what I have to offer. I don’t know the reasons why there is a lack of diversity, so I will just assume that perhaps there haven’t been enough people who don’t take no for an answer. That’s where I come in…
I have a lot of role models for different areas in my life. I’m inspired by my mom and my older cousin Seipati; I’m inspired by people who show consistent kindness as well. Musically there are just too many people to mention!
Hmmm, I don’t know because at every stage I am ticking off things that I have always wanted to do. When I went to the US and got vocal training from Dorian Holley (Michael Jackson, American Idol) that was major for 19 year old me; when I was part of a movie that won an award in South Africa which then resulted in 7 other local movies was great; getting the role of Nala was amazing; being a headlining artist for a month in 2021 on a cruise ship was something that I had always wanted to do. All the media coverage as well was a positive and warm welcome into the industry.
Stick to your convictions and trust your gut. Also: DO IT AFRAID! That is the only way that the fear subsides.
Make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. If you are doing it for validation alone, you will get that but not much else.
So far, it would have to be the red silky “Vixen Dress” that I wore for the “Nordic Christmas” launch when I was singing for the press event onboard the Genting Cruise Ship. I felt regal and confident!