Zahara (South African musician)

Zahara performing in Nairobi, Kenya
Zahara performing in Nairobi, Kenya
Background information
Birth nameBulelwa Mkutukana
Born (1987-11-09) 9 November 1987 (age 34)[1]
East London, South Africa
InstrumentsVocals, acoustic guitar
Years active2011–present

Bulelwa Mkutukana (born 9 November 1987), best known by her stage name Zahara, is a South African singer and songwriter.

Having signed a record deal with TS Records, her debut album Loliwe (2011), which went double platinum. Her second album Phendula (2013), produced three chart-topping single "Phendula", "Impilo", "Stay".

Zahara's third album Country Girl (2015), which was certified triple platinum. Following departure with TS Records, she signed a record deal with Warner Music.[2] Her fourth album Mgodi (2017), which became best-selling album and certified platinum.

Her fifth album Nqaba Yam (2021), which peaked number 1 on iTunes.[3]

Her accolades include 17 South African Music Awards, three Metro FM Awards, and one Nigeria Entertainment Awards.[4] In 2020, Zahara was on the list of the BBC's 100 Women.[5] She appeared as a guest judge on the seventeenth season of Idols South Africa in 2021.[6]

Early life

Zahara was born as 'Bulelwa Mkutukana' in the Phumlani Informal Settlement outside of East London in Eastern Cape, South Africa, where she lived with her parents Nokhaya and Mlamli Mkutukana. She is the sixth of seven children. Zahara started singing in her school's choir when she was six years old, and at the age of nine she was told to join the senior choir because of her strong voice. Her stage name means "blooming flower"; as a child she was known by the nickname "Spinach".


Her music is classified loosely as "Afrosoul" and she sings in her native language, Xhosa, as well as in English.[7] Her music has been described as a mixture of styles that have been popularized by Tracy Chapman and India.Arie.[8]

Zahara started her career busking on the streets of East London. She was spotted by TK Nciza of TS Records, who signed her to his label.[9]

Zahara's debut album Loliwe was released in 2011. The first issue sold out within 72 hours,[7] and 19 days later, the album reached double platinum status in South Africa by surpassing the 100,000 sales mark.[10] This made her the second musician after Brenda Fassie, who was also a Xhosa native, to reach this figure in such record time. Zahara released her first live DVD which featured X-Factor USA contestant LeRoy Bell. The DVD reached platinum (according to the standards set by the Recording Industry of South Africa) in one day.

On 1 May 2012, at the annual South African Music Awards, Zahara won eight awards, including "Best Female Artist" and "Album of the Year".[11]

In 2013, Zahara released her second studio album, Phendula. Phendula won three South African Music Awards for Best Selling Album, Best R&B, Soul and Reggae Album and Best Female Artist of the Year. The same year, Nelson Mandela invited her to his home to perform a private bedside concert. She then composed "Nelson Mandela" in his honor and released it as an EP.[12]

2014–2018: Country Girl, Mgodi

In July 2014, Zahara's younger brother was murdered in East London. According to Zahara, she went through a period of depression after his death, but recovered enough for the 2015 release of Country Girl.[13] In 2015 at the Eastern Cape Music Awards, she won two awards include; Best Female, Best Artists 3.[14]

In early 2017, Zahara signed with Warner Music South Africa.[15] On October 13, 2017, her fourth studio album Mgodi, was released.[16][17] The album went gold after only six hours.[18][19] To further support the album Mgodi, Zahara embarked on her Africa All Star Music Festival, visiting three venues in United States.[20] The tour began in Toronto, Canada, on August 17, 2019, and concluded on August 24, 2019, in Washington DC.[21]

At the 2018 Next Generation Entertainment Award, her album Mgodi won best female act award.[22][11]

2019–present: Nqaba Yam

Following a four-year hiatus, Zahara announced her fifth studio album on CapeTalk site, and later released the album's lead single "Nyamezela" on 7 May 2021.[23] The album was set to be released on 9 July 2021.[24][25] On 30 July 2021, she released a second single "Nqaba Yam".[26]

After many delays due to Covid-19 lockdown, her album on 13 August 2021, was released in South Africa.[27][28] In December 2021, she teased her first Amapiano single which was shared on micro-blogging platform, Twitter.[29]


In 2021, she made her television debut as guest judge for Idols South Africa season 17 alongside Dineo Ranaka.[6]


Awards and nominations

List of awards and nominations received by Zahara
Year Event Prize Nominated work Result Ref.
2014 African Muzik Magazine Awards Best Female Southern Africa Won [30]
20th Annual South African Music Awards Best Selling Album Phendula Won [31]
Female Artist of the Year Won
Best RnB, Soul and Reggae Nominated [32]
Metro FM Music Awards Best African Pop Album Nominated [33]
Best Female Artist Nominated
Song of the Year "Phendula" Nominated
2013 Nigeria Entertainment Awards Southern African Artist of the Year Won [34]
19th Annual South African Music Awards Best Collaboration "Thetha Nami"
(Riot featuring Zahara)
Won [35]
"Hold On (Bambelela)"
(Zahara featuring LeRoy Bell and the Soweto Gospel Choir)
Nominated [36]
Best Live DVD The Beginning Live Nominated
MTN SAMA Record of the Year "Umthwalo" Nominated
Best Selling Ring-Back-Tone "Loliwe" Won [35]
2012 Kora Awards Best Female Artist from Southern Africa Won [37]
Channel O Music Video Awards Best Female Video Won [38]
18th Annual South African Music Awards Best Smooth Urban Music Album Loliwe Won [39]
Best Collaboration "Incwad' Encane"
(Zahara featuring Georgie Munetsi)
Best Selling Album Loliwe Won
Newcomer of the Year "Loliwe" Won
Female Artist of the Year Won
Album of the Year Loliwe Won
Best Selling Full-Track Download of the Year "Loliwe" Won [40]
Remix of the Year "Lengoma"
(DJ Sbu featuring Zahara)
The Headies African Artist of the Year "Loliwe" Nominated [41]
2011 Metro FM Music Awards [A] Best Produced Album Loliwe Nominated [42][43][44]
Best Female Album Won
Best Newcomer Nominated
Song of the Year "Loliwe" Won
Hit Single of the Year "Lengoma"
(DJ Sbu featuring Zahara)
Feather Awards Musician
(Zakes Bantwini and Zahara)
Won [45]
2017 South African Afro Music Awards Herself Best Afro Female Artist Nominated [46]
Country Girl Best Afro Album Nominated
2019 Eastern Cape Music Awards Best EC National Recognised Artist Herself Nominated [47]
2020 Africa Entertainment Awards USA 2020 Best Female Artist Herself Won [48]
Best Female Artist Nominated
  • A ^ The Metro FM Music Awards did not hold in 2012 due to re-positioning. The award ceremony was held in 2013.[49]


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