Zahara caught the attention of South Africans with the debut of her hit album, Loliwe, but her humble beginnings are what have always struck a chord with real fans. Despite this country girl's major industry success, money troubles and allegations of alcohol abuse continue to follow the starlet. It's been an up and down road for this vocal powerhouse and we're taking a closer look at how it all started.
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She had musical gifts from a young age
Fans of the singer may be surprised to learn that her real name is not actually 'Zahara'. As Briefly News previously reported, Bulelwa Mkutukana grew up in the Phumlani Informal Settlement just outside of The Eastern Cape.
The vibrant community boasts incredibly lively people but has often made headlines for its lack of housing and poor service delivery, EWN reports. Still, little Zahara found hope in the challenging but colourful environment, joining her local school choir.
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At just 9-years old, the spunky youngster with a big voice was allowed to join the seniors in their choir meetings, an impressive achievement which was not normally allowed. As the 6th of 7 children, she learned to fight for the things she wanted from an early age.
Speaking with Yo Mzansi, the singer remembers her time with her father with a special kind of fondness. One of her favourite moments was thinking back to a time her dad had built the family home with his two hands.
It's clear Zahara has always been a 'daddy's girl'. Her hit song, u’Loliwe was also inspired by the love she carried for her father.
"He travelled by train to go look for a job in the big cities, leaving his family behind. Some father's come back and some don’t," she told the publication.
Busking on the streets of East London
Not much else is known about her early upbringing but it was not long before the ambitious Zahara went out in search of her own dreams in the big, bad city.
The afro-soul singer made a little extra cash busking on the streets of East London. Mama Mariam Makeba's songs were some of her favourites to perform and for nearly two years Zahara hustled in the hopes of something bigger.
Her hard work paid off and in 2010 she got her first big break with TS Records. The label was managed by TK Nciza and his business partner, DJ Sbu.
A star is born
The very next year, DJ Sbu and Zahara would go on to enjoy unthinkable stardom as Mzansi's favourite music duo. In just 72 hours, her debut album titled Loliwe would sell out every single hard copy. It was a major achievement for the isiXhosa artist.
Zahara won eight awards at the SAMA's that year, making her the most acclaimed act to grace Mzansi's stages since the legendary Brenda Fassie.
But, it's been nothing but an uphill battle from there on out.
Zahara's financial troubles begin
After parting ways with her former label mates, claims of tension and even lack of payments have not stopped following the Loliwe hitmaker and DJ Sbu.
In 2017, Zahara came out guns blazing and alleged TS Records still owed her millions in unpaid royalties. It was not hard for South Africans to believe given the poor reputation of music execs and their tendency to exploit up-and-coming artists.
After years of keeping quiet, TS Records flat out denied her claims in 2019, The Citizen reports.
"To the best of TS Records’ knowledge, Zahara and the producer of the above albums were paid and continue to receive all forms of royalties that are due to them," the label told the publication.
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This year, fans were in an uproar after Zahara's Roodepoort home was broken into and six of her prized SAMA awards were stolen, News 24 reports. While some cheeky peeps accused the singer of selling the trophies herself for a quick buck, others were absolutely convinced that DJ Sbu had sent his "thugs" to come to collect, Briefly News previously reported.
DJ Sbu says Zahara actually owes him money
According to TimesLive, the back and forth hasn't been sitting well with DJ Sbu who finally came out this year to share his side. It looks like he still has a deep respect for his former artist:
“We made history together - and I miss you Bulelwa, I miss you - but what I don't like is she goes out and says I owe her money, because you know that's a lie ... If you go down to the books at Universal Music, she actually owes us money and she doesn't know that,” DJ Sbu claimed.
Today, Zahara's financial woes only continue to make headlines for all the wrong reasons. The singer has even resorted to asking fans for financial support after her home went on auction earlier this year.
And, since the afro-soul singer parted ways with DJ Sbu's label atleast 5 years ago, fans aren't so sure that DJ Sbu is the only one to blame.
Check out some of the social media reactions below:
Hopefully, Queen Zahara will only come back stronger from this super tough situation.
Source: Briefly News