African Music Culture

The Life and Times of South African musician Zahara

south african musician zahara
Written by Teresa Mwangi

South African musician Zahara famous for her ‘Loliwe’ song left an indelible mark in the hearts of her fans. The beloved South African artist died aged 36 at a hospital in Johannesburg.

Her fiancée, Mpho Xaba was by her bedside and she took her last breath on Monday at 9 p.m. Reports indicate that the award-winning artist was admitted to the hospital over two weeks ago. Although the cause of her death is still unknown, she spent many days in the ICU after her condition worsened.

Fans, family and government officials alike are mourning her. They say her demise is a big loss to the nation, given her exceptionally talented nature.

“I am very saddened by the passing of @ZaharaSA. My deepest condolences to the Mkutukana family and the South African music industry. Government has been with the family for some time now. Zahara and her guitar made an incredible and lasting impact in South African music,” Sport, Arts and Culture.

Who Is South African Musician Zahara?

south african musician zahara

South African singer Zahara. Photo/Nairobi News

Zahara was born as Bulelwa Mkutukana on November 9, 1988, in Phumlani, Eastern Cape. She was raised in the small town of Phumlani where she attended Phumlani Primary School and Phumlani Senior School. Her upbringing in the rural village near East London in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa always gave her great memories.

How Did Zahara Start Her Music Career?

Her musical journey began at an early age, inspired by her parents, who were vocalists in their local church choir. She was part of the school choir. Her talent quickly blossomed, and she was soon performing solo acts in school plays. Bulelwa Mkutukana’s love for music extended beyond the classroom walls. She found solace and inspiration in the church choir, further honing her vocal skills and developing a strong connection to gospel music.

These early experiences laid the foundation for  South African musician Zahara. She came up with a unique musical style, which often blends contemporary African sounds with soulful gospel influences. With age, her musical ambitions grew, and she learned to play the guitar, inspired by artists like Tracy Chapman and India Arie. This newfound skill allowed her to express herself through both vocals and music, crafting songs that resonated with her own experiences and the stories of her community.

In 2011, Zahara’s talent was brought to light when she was discovered by a music producer while busking on the streets of East London. This chance encounter led to the release of her debut album, “Loliwe,” which became an instant success. The album’s lead single, “Loliwe,” topped the charts and resonated deeply with South Africans, earning Zahara numerous awards and accolades. It also introduced her to the international music stage.

How Many Albums Did Zahara Have?

South African musician Zahara had four studio albums, namely:

  • Mgodi
  • Phendula
  • Nqaba Yam
  • Loliwe

Some of her most popular songs include:


This song, released in 2011, catapulted Zahara to fame and became a national hit in South Africa. Its catchy melody and relatable lyrics about love and loss resonated deeply with audiences.


This soulful tune from 2011 showcases Zahara’s powerful vocals and her talent for storytelling. The song speaks of hope and perseverance, inspiring listeners to overcome challenges and achieve their dreams.


This upbeat track features a fusion of African rhythms and contemporary pop sounds and it was released in 2013. It’s a celebration of life and love, encouraging people to embrace joy and dance to the rhythm of their hearts.


This powerful song speaks of resilience and overcoming adversity. She released it in 2015 after the murder of her brother. Its lyrics offer comfort and encouragement to those facing difficulties in life.


This song is a tribute to mothers and the sacrifices they make for their children. It’s a moving expression of love, gratitude, and appreciation, and it was released in 2017.


Izolo was her last single, released in 2022.  The song blends traditional African elements with modern production, creating a unique and captivating sound.

south african musician zahara

Zahara. Photo/Report Focus News

Was Zahara Depressed and Battled Alcohol Addiction?

In 2014, Zahara’s life was upended by the tragic death of her brother. This devastating loss plunged her into a deep depression, leaving her feeling lost and hopeless. In an attempt to numb the pain, Zahara turned to alcohol, seeking solace in its temporary escape.

However, her reliance on alcohol quickly spiralled into a full-blown addiction, further compounding her despair and isolating her from loved ones. Battling both grief and addiction simultaneously was a relentless struggle for Zahara. She described it as a period of darkness and self-destruction.

Her music which was once a source of joy, became a painful reminder of her brother’s absence. Despite the challenges, Zahara eventually found the strength to seek help and embark on a long road to recovery. She went public about her addiction in 2019 and painted her journey of addiction.


South African musician Zahara may be gone but her legacy lives on forever. Her music will live to inspire generations to come.

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About the author

Teresa Mwangi

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, loves travelling and telling stories about tour and travel in Africa by every angle.

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