South African musician "Zahara" (Rashid Lahiff/VOA)
South African musician "Zahara" (Rashid Lahiff/VOA)

Bulelwa Mkutukana, better known as Zahara, released her first album titled Loliwe, or  “The Train,” towards the end of 2011. To date it has sold over 300, 000 copies making her one of South Africa’s biggest selling artists.


At this year’s South African Music Awards she walked away with six awards including Female Artist of the year, Best-Selling Album, Best Smooth Urban Music Album and Newcomer of the Year.

“That’s big, that’s God, “  she said,  “for a young girl like me from the rural areas to come into South African music and break the South African music records.”

Zahara comes from the informal settlement of Phumlani, on the outskirts of East London in South Africa and started her singing career as a lead singer in her local church.  She says most of her songs were written to inspire her community and she adds that she never received any formal music training. She inherited her first guitar from her older sister who was studying music at university.

South African singer "Zahara"
South African singer "Zahara"

"I taught myself without notes, without cords,” he explained. “ I would just listen to sounds, watch live DVDs and watch intensively where the guys were placing their fingers when they play. So I’m slowly getting there, I still don’t know all the cords, but I do play though!”

Two months after releasing her debut album, Loliwe, last year she was invited by the former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, for a private performance at his Qunu home.

“Let me say what he said when I went to perform for him,
she explained.  “I’ll said in Xhosa ‘Mntanam, ndifuna undishiyele esosiginci apho!,’ or ‘You must leave your guitar with me!’ ”

Zahara has no plans to release another album this year but will be recording a live DVD at Carnival City in Johannesburg in June. Thereafter she is set to go on tour across the country and overseas.