Born in East London, Eastern Cape (South Africa), the 25yr-old songbird neé Bulelwa Mkutukana has brought back a lot of class to contemporary Afro-soul music.
Nokhaya and Miamli Mkutukana gave birth to young Bulelwa in the Phumani Informal Settlement in South Africa. The penultimate child in a house of seven, she has been interested in singing since the age of 6. Very soon, she was appointed the lead singer of a local Phumani Sunday school choir. It was the beginning of something great for the young girl teasingly known as “Spinach” during her childhood. She was still just 9 when her “strong” voice was isolated and granted the chance to sing with the senior choir.
She learnt to play the acoustic guitar in order to match her spiritually deep and rich voice, and she’s never looked back.
As well as being a talented poet and song-writer, the delicate singer is easily one of the best voices to grace Southern Africa since the 21st century started. She sings in Xhosa (her native language) and English, and is able to loosen people up with her disarmingly strong, clear and beautiful voice.
She announced herself onto the music scene in tremendous style – her hit song “Loliwe” wrested the attention away from many more experienced singers in the region and gracefully placed Afro-Soul back onto the fore of people’s minds.
Her album, Loliwe (the debut single gave it its name) saw its first issue sell out in 72 hours. And then, even more astonishingly, it went platinum in just 13 days. But it didn’t stop there on its meteoric rise – it went double platinum just 4 days later as 100,000 copies were sold all over South Africa. Her first live DVD went platinum in a single day. The performance featured American X-Factor contestant LeRoy Belle.
Zahara (meaning “Blooming Flower) was the fastest-selling South African musician since Brenda Fassie, an African legend. She’d announced herself in the most record-breaking fashion, and her future works would only reinforce her high standing in the Southern African music scene.
So far, she has only released two studio albums – Loliwe (in 2011) and Phendula (in 2013). Both albums were very well-received and she has seen her popularity soar across the SADC region. She has done several shows in Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia & Swaziland, and she has become very popular in each one of those countries for her perceived effortlessness and humility. She has been described as a “natural” and her music is truly quite inspiring.
Loliwe(or “The Train” in English) was released on the 6th of September 2011. Its production was carried out by both Robbie Malinga and Mojalefa Thebe, and it had a guest star in GeorgynKakana. 400,000 copies of the album have been sold in South Africa, and it has been supported by two singles – Loliwe and Ndiza. It ranks only second to Brenda Fassie’sYemenza in the history of South Africa’s most successful.
The idea for the album was completely Zahara’s. Prior to signing for her production label TS Records in August 2010, she had scripted down the lyrics to many of the songs. She mentions several of South Africa’s apartheid heroes in Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Helen Joseph. Her hit track, “Loliwe”, is a metaphor for the train that took workers back from the gold mines of Johannesburg to their homes. Most of them did not reside in Johannesburg and were only there as miners in order to make a living for themselves and their families. In the songstresses own words, “For me it is a metaphor… Just pick yourself up… I believe that you’re not a mistake”.
The lead song was released on the 31st of August of 2011, a mere 10 days before the album. The video was directed by Mastermax Films and Ash Dibben. It has already reached about 1.3 million views on Youtube. The 12-track album brought her much recognition, and she picked up 4 musical awards (being nominated for another) for it.
Best Female Album, Best Selling Album, Album of the Year and Best Smooth Urban Music Album were her conquests.
However, she has attained even greater popularity for her collaboration with popular South African DJ Sbu on a re-work of one of her album’s less noted tracks: Le’Ngoma.
For several months following its release, the hit song was a staple at all the clubs in Southern Africa, and it aired countless times on most radio stations within the region and beyond. The young girl, only 22 when she first released a song, was now becoming famous all throughout Africa.
In 2013, she released an EP in honour of the late civil rights legend Nelson ‘Madiba’ Mandela. Its first song was named “Nelson Mandela” in fact, and it was a personal tribute to one of the world’s most popular figures. It generated a lot of media appeal and people were extremely eager to hear the rest of it She has become an ambassador for the Nelson Mandela hospital and the earnings from that song will all go to the hospital she is sponsoring.
She is already a record-breaker, and being only 25, she will surely still go on to greater things.