Newsmaker 2011: Skylark of Phumlani hits the highest note

2011-12-23 10:11

Who would have thought that our musical saviour would emerge from deep in the bundus of the
Eastern Cape?

She was not discovered on the glittering stages of talent search competitions, nor was she the product of a carefully manufactured process.

Instead, the story of Zahara is much like that of a Cinderella who was found in a little-known joint in a corner of East London, where she was developing a cult following among the town’s weed-smoking hippies and yuppies.

She had left her ilali (village) of Phumlani to further her studies and found residency at Talamanca Lounge.

When the rest of the country sampled that mean guitar riff and the raw candid vocals, it was love
at first listen.

Although her song Loliwe was first heard on her mentor Nhlanhla Nciza’s Live DVD – where she was a guest performer and was introduced as Spinach – it wasn’t until the 24-year-old stepped out on her own with a brand-new name and a look to match that it suddenly resonated.

She’s from the same mould as Tracy Chapman, India Arie and Asa. No one can resist her talent.

She has even performed privately for Nelson Mandela.

To understand the significance of the woman born Bulelwa Mkutukana, one has to comprehend the dire straits the local music industry was in.

It was all downhill with music sales. The standards had been compromised so much that a total sales figure of a measly 60 000 copies would be awarded the bestseller award at the SA Music Awards.

In just four months, Zahara is already sitting on 300 000 copies sold.

She harks back and returns us to the time of Brenda Fassie, Mandoza and Zola when it was normal for CD sales to head towards the half-a-million mark.

Zahara and her guitar have reignited the music scene. It was only Brenda whose music blared from taxis, luxury sedans and shebeens all at once.

Her hits were always universal, but since her departure, the industry somehow dithered as it looked for a song of the year.

Today, you don’t need to ask a pre-schooler to know that 2011’s song of the year was Loliwe.

Zahara has no pretences.

One could say that she is still a diamond in the rough. What you have seen with Loliwe was a polishing process in action.

She is yet to shine and sparkle.

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