From Rave Queen to R&B diva
"Next one will be Zanzibar!" Rozalla says with a hearty chuckle as she rocks back in her chair in Epic Records' London conference room. It seems some British journalists think as long as they state that Rozalla's country's starts with a ?Z' then they're alright. What's got Rozalla chuckling is being told that one such journo had written that she was born in Zaire. Actually she was born in Zambia but moved with her parents to Zimbabwe when she was sixteen and already three years into a burgeoning singing career.
"I was performing in night clubs even though I was under-age but my relatives would look after me and take me there - aunts and uncles who believed in me from an early age," explains Rozalla. "I'd perform in between fashion shows when the models were having their time off." A two week residency at the Intercontinental hotel led to her performing on Zambian television.
She carried on performing when she moved to Zimbabwe. However, music not being one of the most stable or highly regarded professions in Africa, she had to take a secretarial course on her mother's advice. "She was like, ?If you want to do music that's O.K., but I think you must have something to fall back on.' I understood her fears because it is tough in the music business and she didn't want me living from pillar to post because of not having a trade. So I went to secretarial college and the skills I learned came in handy."
Handy, maybe, but confusing because by night our Rozalla was either performing in hotels, nightclubs or on television, but by day star-struck youngsters recognised her - as she temped - and interrupted her work with requests for autographs. "I really wanted to do music full-time and earn a living out of it," says Rozalla who had by now become a "household name" with several "instant hits" from singles released by a local record company. Her contract with the company was the first prize in a talent competition she had won.
The start of Rozalla's international career began when a local DJ told a music business friend in England about her. Whilst in Zimbabwe they caught her on TV. Impressed, the businessman invited her to London. Sadly all their early songs got nowhere. Then a writing and production team called Band of Gypsies who were asked to remix some of the early material decided to work from scratch with her. Again, it was tough getting any interest from record companies. "There was a point when I was getting ready to return to Zimbabwe because money was getting tight," she laughs. Not too long after, she got signed by a new independent label called Pulse 8. It wasn't long before records aimed at the underground rave scene were crossing over into the pop charts.
?Everybody's Free (To Feel Good)' burst through the British top ten in the summer of 1991 and within a year she had amassed four more hit singles and a top twenty album. Her hits and regular personal appearances at night clubs and raves earned her a tag which she's now trying to shed. "I was first hailed as the Queen of Rave. I still am and that's a title I'm trying to get away from," she says with another chuckle, adding, "I guess I'd rather be known as a dance diva - that sounds more appealing now."
Which is understandable because even though her present record company, the Sony Music-owned Epic Records, have tried to branch her out into a soul and R&B direction with some mid-tempo songs and ballads on her new album, ?Look No Further', the bulk of the album consists of uptempo dance tracks. Whilst she's glad for having the chance of singing slower songs like the title track and ?All That I Need', something she hopes to do more of, she cautions, "It has to be gradual or else my fans would think: ?what is she up to?" Judging by the quality of her single ?Baby', the mid-tempo remake of the Soul Family Sensation's song ?I Don't Know If I Should Call You Baby', Rozalla need not be unduly worried about her fans' reaction.
Rozalla is back on the personal appearance trail promoting her album across Britain. "Boy, are they spread around," she says. She revealed that wherever she performs, she must travel back to her flat in London "because I like sleeping in my own bed."
Zambia, via Zimbabwe to Blighty and beyond, Rozalla has surely come a long way from performing in between fashion shows in southern African hotels.