IMG_3270 Zahara responds to winning Album of the year during the 18th MTN SAMA awards held at Sun City, Mon 30 April 2012. She also won Female Artist of the year, Newcomer of the year, Best Selling Album, as well as Best Smooth Urban Music album and Best Collaboration. Picture Cathy Pinnock.

Terri Dunbar-Curran

when an artist’s first album goes multiplatinum in just over two weeks and she’s nominated for a series of awards, the nation sits up and takes notice.

Hailing from the Eastern Cape, Bulelwa Mkutukana, known as Zahara, won eight awards at last week’s 18th annual SA Music Awards (Samas). Among the accolades she walked away with were Album of the Year, Female Artist of the Year, Best Selling Album, Newcomer of the Year, Best Smooth Urban Music Album and Best Collaboration.

“I didn’t expect it!” she says. “Everything just happened so fast – eight awards in eight months!”

It was a good week for the young singer, who, days after the awards was still dizzy with excitement, and even more buoyed by just having passed her driving licence.

Hearing her name called over and over at the Samas is something she won’t soon forget.

“I was like: ‘Okay, did I hear right? Is it for real?’ I was overwhelmed,” she laughs.

While each award is special to her, she says the ones that mean the most are Best Female, Album of the Year and especially Best Newcomer, which artists only have one opportunity to receive, so she is particularly honoured.

“They all mean a lot though.”

Despite this overwhelming affirmation of her talent and hard work, Zahara knows that she still has a long way to go as a musician. “I’ll keep on keeping on,” she says.

That sentiment is echoed in her 2011 debut album, which brought her to South Africa’s attention – Loliwe (The Train).

She recalls how, as a child, her parents told her stories of men leaving their families to find work and how some of them never returned, or others started new families. The title track refers to the trains that brought workers home after many years in Joburg.

“Even though you might not know your father, you’re not a mistake. Pick yourself up and carry on,” she says, adding that if people want to achieve in life they need to decide to live a certain way.

“You must work hard towards your goals and dreams.”

Zahara has been likened to artists like Tracey Chapman. “For me to be compared to her is an honour and a blessing.”

Sometimes, however, being in the public eye isn’t a happy experience, which the singer has learnt the hard way. In the weeks leading up to the Samas her name was splashed across the media for a different reason. There were allegations of mistreatment by her record company and unfulfilled promises. She has denied the stories, but fans and media persisted.

Zahara says that because of the awards, it seems the commotion has died down, but she is aware that there is little she can do to stop people from speculating.

“It’s fine with me; I know the truth… The only thing people ask about is cars and houses. Success is not defined by physical things,” she says, adding light-heartedly that if anything, a car could be seen as a liability. She is bewildered that, because she isn’t spending, people assume she’s not earning, instead of wondering if perhaps she’s saving or investing her earnings.

Material gain isn’t as important to her as music is, so she makes an effort to write every day.

She will also be recording a live DVD at Carnival City next month.

The Loliwe title song was produced by Robbie Mainga and Mojalefa Thebe. It is proving to be a hit on YouTube, where the video has clocked up close to 45 000 combined views and is showing no signs of slowing down.

Zahara also features on the song Lengoma on DJ S’bu’s new release, Sound Revival.

l Loliwe was released by CCP Records/EMI Music SA. For more information, see