Zahara: A legacy of inspiration and impact


On Tuesday, December 12, the world received the sombre news of the passing of Bulelwa Mkutukana, fondly known as Zahara, at the age of 36. The announcement was made by South Africa’s Sports, Arts, and Culture Minister Zizi Kodwa.

Local reports indicate that Zahara succumbed to alleged liver complications a day prior.

The news hit not only South Africans but also countless Africans familiar with her music. Despite often singing in Xhosa, her native language, Zahara’s music had a universal appeal that transcended language barriers.

While Zahara achieved stardom with her music resonating across the continent, her initial aspirations differed from the widespread fame she eventually garnered.

Before making a mark in the music industry, the self-taught guitarist’s journey commenced in her village outside East London in the Eastern Cape of South Africa, where she began singing in her school choir at the age of six.

Her musical journey took a humble start as she began sharing her music on the streets, engaging in busking alongside poets in East London.

In a 2022 interview on JoyFM, Zahara recounted her path to prominence, highlighting that she secured a spot in a public space that provided her with increased exposure.

“There was a musical lounge that would give a slot to go perform as poets on Thursdays, [so] I would force my brothers and sisters to go there… and that’s how I was found; basking in the club”, she elaborated.

Describing her motivation, Zahara emphasised that making music to inspire people was the driving force behind her street performances.

“I wasn’t writing my music to be in the industry. I never knew about the industry. I wrote my music to inspire people, to give hope to people,” she noted.

Her breakthrough came with the release of her hit song “Loliwe” from her debut album of the same name in 2011.

The success of the album, achieving gold and platinum status shortly after its release, initially left Zahara somewhat perplexed. She did not understand the magnitude of their words, she said.

However, hearing her voice on the radio while driving to festivals marked a poignant moment, and she expressed, “I was inspired by myself.”

While Zahara did not anticipate the popularity that accompanied her successful music career, she acknowledged that her songs reaching a vast audience, brought her to one realisation – she had fulfilled her dream.

“My dream to inspire people came true,” she told the host Lexis Bill.

Even in Ghana and other African countries, where she became a household name, Zahara recognised the transformative power of her music.

Beyond music, Zahara utilized her platform to address social issues, notably speaking out against gender-based violence in South Africa. She initiated the “Zahara Army” foundation, aiming to empower young South African women to grow up strong.

In her interview on Joy FM, Zahara urged individuals aspiring to achieve dreams and goals not to rush their journeys but to embrace patience and await their destined time.

“You must wait for your destiny,” she stated.

Zahara concluded “If ever in life you want to be something, you believe you are somebody, you believe in something, never give up on your dream or your vision. Don’t want to be called a dreamer; be called an achiever. Dream and achieve.”

As we remember Zahara, her legacy endures in the melodies that touched hearts and the inspiration she brought to those who listened to her voice.

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