What Jimi Hendrix did with his electric guitar, Elo is doing with her sumptuous videos. The team behind her includes Tebogo Malope, the film and TV commercial director who won a Cannes Lion at the 2017 edition of the advertising honours. It shows in the quality of the videos that Elo puts out, the lighting, art direction and overall production are at the highest level.
It should come as no surprise that Elo has performed and recorded with the Johannesburg art rock band, Blk Jks. In the song Stare you can clearly hear the rich R&B tone in her voice. But there's something else going on in this song, a restlessness that mirrors the energy of inner-city Joburg. That these two entities should come together is a declaration of intent by millennials that their music will chart bold new territories while remembering the sources from which it is founded. Where the Blk Jks use high-energy electric guitar and throbbing bass to frame their high energy songs, Elo shows that electro-pop can be a vehicle for deeply soulful music.
Elo, who was born in Soweto, has one of the most distinctive sounds that is quite clearly a mixture of the music she grew up listening to, including Shangaan electro, disco, funk and jazz. The lyrics are always deeply personal and they reflect her own adventurous spirit and eclectic approach to her craft.
She is, as the young people say, one of the cool kids. But she also has a honey-laced voice that delivers her lyrics with the confidence of one born to be a singer. Her name is Elo Zar. What Black Coffee has achieved as a DJ, Elo is set to achieve as an electro-pop artist.
The big Afro is reminiscent of Chaka Khan, and the futuristic videos mark her as one who knows that her generation enters the music via the visual. Pink is her signature colour, and her hair is mostly kept in a florescent pink.
At a recent performance at the Sci-Bono in Newtown she was joined on stage by an 8-piece. The choice of the venue was an inspired one, given the way in which Elo brings to her music a deliberately electronic approach. To add to the magic of a winter evening, the entire stage was painted a pastel pink. Her band members walked onto the stage barefoot, wearing flowing robes and striking Basotho hats.
The song Make You Stay which was delivered in a future-meets-past mix of techno that harkens back to the golden age of disco while referencing the sounds of acid jazz. The theme of the evening at Sci-Bono was Surreal So Real, an apt one given that Elo insists on merging both fantasy and reality in her music-making.
Soweto has given South Africa and the world some of the most memorable songs, from Miriam Makeba's Soweto Blues, written for the 1976 generation. Elo's sultry vocals on Be It are a continuation of this musical legacy that borrows on Soweto's complex identity and artistic heritage.