December 12, 2023

From the streets of East London to the world stage

With her guitar in hand, she healed many with her music

Like most talented musicians, Zahara began her music career in church before breaking into mainstream music. Born bulelwa Mkutukana in November 1987, in an informal settlement called Phumlani outside East London in the Eastern Cape, she started performing as a solo act at her primary school at the age of 8. In one of her media interviews, Zahara said that's when she fell in love with the stage. At a later stage, she started singing on the streets of East London with the stage name Spinach.


Before she was called Zahara, she was discovered by TS Records which was co-owned by DJ Sbu and music executive turned politician TK Nciza in 2010 while performing on the streets of East London with her guitar. The recording company promised to make her a big star and true to their word, Zahara's debut album Loliwe was released in 2011 and at first issued by distribution company EMI. This time though she dropped the name Spinach and tchanged to Zahara, which means blossoming flower in Arabic. Loliwe was sold out within 72 hours, reaching a gold status. Within a month, the album produced by the late Robbie "Insimbi" Malinga had sold more than 200,000 copies. It reached double platinum status and made Zahara one of the most sought-after musicians in the country and the continent. Zahara's success came at a time when TS Records's popular and top-selling Kwaito artist, the late Brown Dash and Afro-pop sensation, Ntando Bangani had unceremoniously left the label. Zahara, whose accolades include 17 South African Music Awards, three Metro FM Awards, and one Nigeria Entertainment Award, died last night after being in hospital for a month.


Zahara was on the 2020 list of the BBC's 100 Women and was once a chart-topping musician who released an impressive second album Phendula ,in 2013, which produced three chart-topping singles Phendula, Impilo and Stay. Her 2015 third album, Country Girl was certified triple platinum. She then left TS Records and signed a record deal with Warner Music. Her fourth album, Mgodi (2017), was her best-selling album and was certified platinum as well. Her fifth album, Nqaba Yam released in 2021, peaked at number 1 on iTunes. She was a guest judge on the 17th season of Idols South Africa in 2021. Zahara performed at different venues across the country. She even opened her record label with former TS Records road manager, Sanele Dlamini, but it never took off. In September, Zahara's two albums Mgodi and Nqaba Yam achieved 19 million streams. Zahara, who shared photos of her overseas visit recently, has been working hard to re-claim her stake in the showbiz industry.

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