SA songbird Zahara has strummed her way into our hearts with a host of hits off her debut album, Loliwe.

The double-platinum CD sold more than 300 000 copies, made Zahara (whose real name is Bulelwa Mkutukana) an overnight singing sensation and brought her eight SA Music Awards this year.

Now, as accomplished as she may be, this musician is far from having her head in the clouds.

Tonight chatted to the star, who is touring the country. We got to know more about Bulelwa and why performing at the SA Women’s Arts Festival this weekend is important to her.

Growing up in Phumlani Village near East London, in the Eastern Cape, Bulelwa never imagined she could have a career in music, because that wasn’t “a real job” – or so she was told.

“Being a girl from the village, music is not taken seriously – you must be a teacher, a doctor or a nurse. If you want to sing, they’ll say you must do it in church.”

So she did.

Bulelwa began singing in Sunday school and from those early days she loved music. She started writing her own songs from the age of 10.

“It is a passion I’ve always had. In my village I never saw anyone who was a singer, I only saw them on TV, but by the time I passed matric I realised that this is what I want to do. I taught myself to play the guitar, I wrote poetry and engaged at poetry sessions in school. Everyone used to tell me that I should record a demo, but I didn’t have money, so I did local gigs,” she said.

It was while she was doing a gig in the Eastern Cape in 2009 that TS Records executive and co-founder, TK Nciza, discovered her and got the ball rolling on her professional career.

We asked Bulelwa, as a young black woman from a disadvantaged background who has come into her own, what her thoughts were on the opportunities now available to women in South Africa.

“We are a very privileged country, especially as women. We have rights and can express ourselves. If you have a dream, you can pursue it. You can be a lawyer, a doctor, a singer.

“Maybe in some cases, because of the way we grow up (in rural or disadvantaged communities), we are not using these opportunities enough.

“But there are those who do,” she said, citing the entertainment industry as one example where women (such as Simphiwe Dana, Thandisa Mazwai and TK) have advanced.

But linked to the opportunities, Bulelwa believes, is education: “They are not lying when they say education is the key to success, whether in music, the arts, or politics. If we as young women want to be empowered, we must be educated.”

We asked her about her studies in human resources which she put on hold when her career took off: “This album has kept me on my toes, but I will complete my studies. You never know, maybe there’ll be another Zahara next year, and then what? You’ve got to have something to fall back on.”

• The Women’s Celebratory Concert takes place on Sunday at 7.30pm in the Playhouse Opera Theatre. Tickets: R150 to R180 at Computicket or call 031 369 9540/9596.