“Uloliwe wayidudula, Loliwe wayidudula, Uloliwe wayidudula, Nang'esiza...” hard to have not known those lyrics during the year 2011 as Zahara’s hit song ‘Loliwe’ was blasted on every station across the country, announcing her arrival.
Bulelwa Mkutukana, in 2010 was just another artist trying to make ends meet by performing with her guitar in the busy streets of East London for herself and family back in Phumlani Village, in the Eastern Cape.
Her luck would soon change when her legendary voice was discovered by TS Records co-owner TK Nciza during a gig in East London.
She went from just an ordinary singer in a small town to one of the country’s biggest artists, thanks to her debut album, ‘Loliwe’ in 2011.
During this period, her stage name went from Spinach to Zahara, meaning "budding Flower" in Arabic and a budding flower she was.
The 12 track album consisted of hit after hit. After all, she worked with the late legendary Robbie Malinga and Mojalefa Mjakes Thebe.
She joined TS Records which was co-owned by DJ Sbu and music executive turned politician TK Nciza’s star, selling out within 72 hours with close to 400,000 copies of the album sold.
Within that space of time, the singer-songwriter became a national star, with many knowing the lyrics to her songs, thanks to the massive airplay she had - TV and radio. It was all about the girl with the big afro, guitar and commanding voice.
Zahara found fame doing what she loved - singing, something she was born to do, a gift she had been bestowed. She even taught herself how to play the guitar.
Fame for the multi-platinum selling artist came with its share of accolades, which she certainly collected - 17 South African Music Awards, three Metro FM Awards, and one Nigeria Entertainment Award and featured on the 2020 list of the BBC's 100 Women.
She released five studio albums with each achieving nationwide success; her second album ‘Phendula’ in 2013 topped the charts and proving her star power, her fifth ‘Nqaba Yam’ went to claim number one on iTunes.
In November this just before her 36th birthday, she shared in an Instagram post how she is intentional with her music with each song having a specific meaning and how they are written from her journal entries, in hopes her fans could find healing through her songs and know that they are not alone.
As the tributes have been pouring in following the announcement of her death, many have been acknowledging how her music healed them.
I am very saddened by the passing of @ZaharaSA. My deepest condolences to the Mkutukana family and the South African music industry. Government has been with the family for some time now. Zahara and her guitar made an incredible and lasting impact in South African music. pic.twitter.com/1a402aQfLs— Minister of Sport, Arts & Culture (@zizikodwa) December 11, 2023
In 2019, Zahara revealed she had not been receiving royalties from her former record label TS Records and also later opened up about her financial difficulties.
DJ Sbu has denied the label owning her any money and has claimed it was actually the other way around.
Zahara’s relationship with alcohol has previously trended and even made headlines. In 2022, the fed-up musician hit back at claims she was “drunk” at Macufe Lifestyle Divas Show in Bloemfontein.
“In my life right now, I’m so tired of explaining myself of everything that people decide to do and what they want to think of me,” Zahara told IOL Entertainment at the time.
“People who were at Macufe saw my performance. I’m not talking about people who are trying to sabotage me. Ask people who were in Macufe (about my performance),” added Zahara.
Earlier this year, she let her ZaharaArmy inside her private life when she filmed her own reality TV show, ‘Zahara: As I Rise’ on SABC 1.
2023 also saw Zahara’s love life come together; in March, the multi-award-winning singer said ‘yes’ to her boyfriend Mpho Xaba after a courtship of six months.
Xaba is reported to have been by the singer's side during her last moments and took care of her. He paid lobola for her in November and they were set to have their wedding in the new year.
I said yes💍👸🏼👑💃🏽 pic.twitter.com/wxIfPCix4r— ZAHARA (@ZaharaSA) March 11, 2023
Zahara’s career had also been in a good position with the singer being booked across the country to perform. She even dabbled in an amapiano fused release.
The East London singer teamed up with Thebe (Mjakes The Producer) for the track ‘Guqa Ngedolo’ on his new album ‘Imithandazo’
Last month, her family confirmed she had been admitted to hospital and called on South Africans to keep the musician in their prayers.
“Zahara has been admitted to the hospital for a week following complaints about physical pains. The doctors are working diligently and we await further updates from them,” they shared at the time.
Her fans and the music industry rallied around the singer, supporting her and praying for her recovery, until her untimely passing on December 11.
Her current record label Warner Music Africa, which she signed a global deal with in 2021, released a statement confirming her passing on Tuesday.
Temi Adeniji, managing director at Warner Music Africa, reflected on the music icon’s legacy. "Her impact on the music industry is immeasurable, and her legacy will forever be etched in the hearts of those who found solace and joy in her music.
“As we mourn the loss of this extraordinary talent, let us remember Zahara for the indelible mark she left on the world through her artistry and the enduring beauty of her music."
Zahara’s family also released a statement on Tuesday confirming the singer’s death. “She was a pure light, and an even pure heart, in this world. A beacon of hope, a gift, and a blessing to us and countless people around the world.
“A legendary figure in the world of music, Zahara remarkably touched millions of people’s lives with her extraordinary gift and passion for music.
“She leaves behind an indelible mark on the music industry and a legacy that will forever resonate in our hearts and souls.”
Bulelwa Mkutukana, Spinach, Zahara for many will be remembered as the girl next door who made it and achieved her dreams and inspired others.
To her family she will be remembered as a wife, sister, aunt and a daughter.