Born in Port Elizabeth in 1981, Zolani Mahola studied Theatre and Performance at the University of Cape Town. There, she met musicians with whom she would later form Pan-African, multicultural, multi-genre band Freshlyground in 2002.
She worked as receptionist at Makro during weekends and school holidays. She grew up on Ntshekisa Street, a long and busy street in New Brighton, a township on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth. Zolani stayed with her dad and younger sister between 1999 and 2001. In 2011, Zolani and Freshlyground gave a free concert on Ntshekisa Street as part of their 10th birthday tour.
After studying drama at the University of Cape Town, she was cast in the lead role in the television drama Tsha-Tsha, which aired on SABC 1. Mahola voiced the character of Zoë in the animated feature film, Zambezia (2012), and also recorded the song "Get Up" for the original motion picture soundtrack.
Mahola and six other musicians formed Freshlyground in Cape Town in 2002.
After Freshlyground published their second album, Nomvula, in 2004, The Sunday Times described Mahola as one of South Africa's best and most inspiring young singers.
She travelled to Cape Town, Durban and Pretoria with English pop singer Robbie Williams in 2006, with Freshlyground performing as Williams' supporting act.
She sang on The Parlotones' third studio album, Stardust Galaxies (2009).
At the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Mahola, with Freshlyground and Shakira, performed "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" in the opening and closing ceremonies. "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" was the official song of FIFA World Cup in 2010.
At the Glamour Women of the Year Awards 2011, held on 25 July in Johannesburg, Mahola was among eight women honoured by the South African division of Glamour. Glamour declared both her and her band mate Kyla-Rose Smith "The Icons" of South African women in 2011. Mahola opened up in 2018 about starting a Solo project that would be independent of Labels and major sponsors.
On 15 August 2019, Mahola officially announced the launch of her solo career as a musician, storyteller and transformational speaker. Her first solo release, "The One Who Sings" launched in November 2019.
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