Tributes are pouring in for the multi-award-winning Loliwe hitmaker Zahara, who died on Monday night.
Zahara – born Bulelwa Mkutukana – died owing to liver complications in a private hospital two weeks after being admitted to intensive care. She was 36.
The talented musician had a significant impact on the music industry, and her music, rendered in a soulful voice with inspiring lyrics, touched the hearts of many.
Her debut album’s first issue sold out in 72 hours and continued to reach platinum status in just 13 days, as well as double platinum in 17 days. Zahara’s music was compared to that of the late Brenda Fassie
Her family said: “It is with heavy hearts and deepest sorrow that we announce the passing of our beloved daughter, sister and friend Zahara. Surrounded by family and loved ones, Zahara departed this world on Monday 11 December 2023. She was a pure light and an even purer heart in this world, a beacon of hope, a gift, and a blessing to us and countless people around the world.
“May she rest in eternal peace, and may her melodies continue to echo in our hearts forever.”
Zahara’s journey and legacy
Zahara’s journey in the music industry was filled with accolades and milestones. She was a self-taught guitarist and singer. Her love for music started at the tender age of six. In primary school she was appointed lead singer of a Sunday school choir in Phumlani, East London.
She was spotted by TK Nciza while performing in the dusty streets of East London in the Eastern Cape and signed her to his stable, TS Records, which he co-owned with Dj Sbu. Nciza is now the ANC’s Gauteng secretary.
Her debut album, Loliwe, released in 2011, went platinum in just 13 days and double platinum in 17 days, selling more than 100,000 copies. It earned eight awards, including Album of the Year and Best Female Artist at the South African Music Awards (Sama) in 2012. Her albums have also earned Album of the Year and Best Female Artist nominations, and she received a Best Produced Album award for Country Girl. In 2021, her album Nqaba Yam peaked at No 1 on iTunes.
She performed that track in 2013 for Nelson Mandela, and composed a well-received tribute song to him following his death.
Her first live DVD, which features X Factor USA contestant LeRoy Bell, reached platinum status in one day.
In 2013, she released another album, Phendula, which enjoyed the same success as her previous album, as she received 17 Sama awards and a Nigeria Entertainment award, and earned a place on the BBC’s list of top 100 women.
Outpouring of love
Musicians, politicians, political parties and others have paid tribute to Zahara on social media.
The EFF wrote: “The Economic Freedom Fighters [are] deeply saddened by the passing of award-winning songstress Bulelwa Mkutukana, better known by her stage name Zahara, who passed away last night after prolonged illness and hospitalisation.
“Zahara must be remembered as a pioneer in the music industry, who broke through in an industry that often discards women and destroys the lives of those who enter it.”