Their songs capture the hearts of millions, but behind the creative brilliance of some of the world’s biggest hitmakers is a dark shadow of excess and addiction.
South African singer and songwriter Zahara’s frank admission this week that she had battled with booze caught many of her fans by surprise.
But throughout history, some of the world greatest performers have struggled with substance abuse.
And some have lost — Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, UK singer Amy Winehouse, legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix and, closer to home, R&B singer Tsakani “TK” Mhinga and Weekend Special hitmaker Brenda Fassie.
But other local artists have lived to tell the tale of their addiction, and how they beat it.
For veteran musician PJ Powers — who is now 10 years sober — the addiction was so bad she would even lie, telling the cashier at bottle stores she had left her card at home and would be back later to pay.
She finally decided to confront her addiction. “I had a raging battle with alcohol. I spent many years trying to get my addiction under control, but at my lowest I realised that I had to surrender myself to it. I realised that it was much bigger than me and I couldn’t do it alone.”
This week Zahara (real name Bulelwa Mkutukana), spoke publicly about her battle with booze, saying she had turned to alcohol to help her deal with stress and emotional challenges.
“It was not a nice place to be in. I was frustrated and so I drank a little to find happiness. I got to a point where one night I finished a whole bottle of wine by myself. I knew then that I needed to speak to someone and deal with this.”
Zahara told the Sunday Times she would often drink casually with friends. “I was going through a lot in the industry, dealing with managers and people who I didn’t feel were treating me right so I would try to deal with it in different ways. One of those was by drinking with friends.”
In October last year the Loliwe hitmaker realised she needed to get help and turned to her family, who prayed and fasted with her.
“It really helped that I had someone to speak to. Sometimes you need to ask for help. I was scared to speak about it, but I felt freedom when I did.”
Zahara said she is now five months sober.
Musician Kabelo Mabalane has openly shared his journey with drug and alcohol addiction.
He was once rushed to hospital after a four-day binge. He has been sober and drug free for 17 years and has since focused on being an athlete.
After 30 years in the music industry, Ishmael Morabe’s drug addiction was so out of control that he feared he would die of an overdose. It was the thought of losing everything — especially the people close to him — that spurred him on to sobriety.
For rapper Emtee, fame made drugs and alcohol more accessible, but surrounding himself with good people made it easier.
He admits to still taking his drink of choice — codeine mixed with Sprite, also known as the purple drink. At one time he was drinking the mixture up to three times a day, ignoring his wife’s pleas for him to stop.
Last year he collapsed during a performance. Emtee said although he stopped drinking alcohol, his use of the purple drink was so excessive that his teeth were decaying. He also still smokes marijuana. “All creatives have that one thing, and these are mine,” he said. Binnelanders actor and Survivor SA: Maldives winner Hykie Berg tells about his heroin addiction in his book, Ultimate Survivor.
He told the Sunday Times that the first time he put a needle in his arm as a teenager, he “was gone”. Before that, he was already experimenting with paint thinners.
“I had no friends. I had no self-esteem. I was arrested countless times. My life was a disaster.” Religion and rehab finally helped turn his life around. Kwaito star Mshoza, reeling from an abusive relationship and then the death of good friend and singer Lebo Mathosa, also hit rock-bottom.
“It got to a point where I would have R500 and no electricity and I would choose to buy alcohol and drink in the dark rather than be stressed the whole day.”
Mshoza finally decided to speak out about her battles to show other artists facing similar battles that it is possible to survive.
– Sunday Times