Newsmaker – One, two, three . . . Zahaaaaaaara!

2011-12-03 16:08

There was a time when she couldn’t even afford a ticket to South Africa’s glittering music awards ceremonies.

The only glimpse she had of these colourful events was via a neighbour’s television set in a rural Eastern Cape village.

But last Saturday music sensation Zahara – real name Bulelwa Mkutukana – walked away with two accolades at the Metro FM Music Awards at Mbombela stadium in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga province.

It was the first time in her 24 years that she has attended such an event.

Her smash-hit album Loliwe, won the coveted Song of The Year and she also scooped the Best Female Album award.

Not only that, the remix for her song Lengoma by DJ Sbu won the Hit Single of the Year award.

She was just happy to be there, she says, sipping on a cup of warm water, lemon and honey at Primi Piatti restaurant in trendy Melrose Arch, Rosebank.

Incidentally, her song Lengoma booms over the speakers as we walk in.

“Oh noooo!” she exclaims shyly.

The waiters stare in admiration.

“Zahara!” says one when I ask who’s singing.

“There she is next to you,” quips another.

Zahara takes it all in her stride. She’s like the girl next door really. She carries herself with an innocence that belies her soaring popularity and ­300 000-odd album sales.

Funny though, when she composed her music she only just wanted to inspire those close to her and never did so with the aim of producing a hit album.

But now she hears her music everywhere she goes.

“I hear this music everywhere, in a Porsche, taxi, emkhukhwini, in a mansion, it’s everywhere. At first I used to jump and dance when I heard my music being played everywhere. I got goosebumps! But now I’m sort of getting used to it.”

She’s irked by the fact that some people have even tried selling her fake CDs of her own music at intersections.

An elderly woman in the Eastern Cape even tried in vain to get Zahara to autograph the fake CD she had bought.

But she confesses that while she is humbled by the admiration her fans have showered on her, she is not used to all the attention.

Now she finds doing something as easy as shopping for a pair of jeans quite a difficult and lengthy process because she is mobbed by adoring fans everywhere.

“These are the people who have made me what I am and I admire them. But sometimes it can take you an hour just trying to get to a shop because everyone wants to take a picture with you. But I don’t mind because it shows people appreciate what I do,” she says.

To relax, she indulges in one of her favourite pastimes, spending hours watching cartoons on the telly.

“They are so free spirited,” Zahara explains her love for the world of animation.

But she hasn’t found a lot of time for this in the past three months, particularly on weekends. Her popularity has seen her performing non-stop every weekend.

“I’ve been told I’ve been booked until Easter next year,” she says.

It looks like next year, she will be even busier, with a tour of France, the US and Holland on the cards.

Next week she is performing in Botswana, and her face beams when she mentions she’s finally got her passport after travelling on a temporary one for a while.

But being on the road all the time has its downside. She misses home-cooked meals, particularly her favourite dish umnqusho (samp and beans).

But she enjoys performing so much she sometimes dreams of herself on stage, wowing the crowds.

But all this would never have happened had her mother Xoliswa not convinced her husband Mlamli Mkutukana to allow their daughter to follow her dreams in the city of gold.

“My father was opposed to the idea of me coming to Johannesburg to pursue a music career. He was concerned about the stories of drugs and partying they always read about,” she says.

She swears she will never fall into that trap of living high and fast.

She cites the likes of diva Sibongile Khumalo, Ringo Madlingozi and Simphiwe Dana whom she refers to as buti and sisi as a form of respect. The first time she met some of the artists that have been in the game much longer than her at a music festival she went over and introduced herself.

“They were like, ‘haai siyakwazi kaloku!’ (haai we know who you are). It was really humbling,” she says flashing that shy, girlish Zahara smile.

Last month she got the chance to perform for former president Nelson Mandela at his home in Qunu.

“I was sitting at his feet. I played him Thekwane. I was so nervous I messed up my song. I took the last verse and played it first. But when I finished he clapped and said he wants my guitar,” she says, adding that she got nervous on entering the Mandela household.

An hour away from Madiba’s home in Phumlani, a rural village near East London, Mlamli and Xoliswa Mkutukana’s home has also been buzzing with visitors.

“My parents say strangers just knock on the door to congratulate them for what I have achieved,” she says.

The enormity of her feats had not quite hit her until she went back to her village two months ago, to be greeted by a throng of ecstatic villagers feasting on beef and mutton prepared in her honour.

“Even the people I grew up with just wanted to take pictures with me. I just cried a lot,” she says, looking like she was going to cry again.


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