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South Africa Afro-Pop Sensation Zahara Dies Aged 36

Zahara sang in choirs as a child and taught herself guitar. Her voice drew comparisons to Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading and India Arie.


South African singer and songwriter Zahara performs at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival on March 31, 2012, in Cape Town. (Photo by RODGER BOSCH / AFP)

 

Tributes were paid Tuesday to award-winning South African singer Zahara, whose debut album made her an overnight pop sensation, after her death at the age of 36.

South Africa’s arts minister and Zahara’s record company announced her death late Monday in a Johannesburg hospital where she was first admitted last month.

Born Bulelwa Mkutukana to a poor family in a village near East London, Zahara became known for her trademark guitar and giant Afro hairstyle.

Zahara sang in choirs as a child and taught herself guitar. Her voice drew comparisons to Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading and India Arie.

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She burst into the music scene in 2011, with her debut album Loliwe selling out in 72 hours.

Zahara was billed alongside Hugh Masekela, James Ingram and Lauryn Hill at Africa’s biggest jazz festival in 2012.

She released five albums and won 17 South African Music Awards, the country’s top accolade, in all.

In a 2012 interview with AFP Zahara told how she had sang for South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela at his home.

“That was emotional for me. I remember I cried when I started singing to the finish and I even messed up my song,” she recalled.

Sports, arts and culture minister Zizi Kodwa wrote on X, the former Twitter, that she was “very saddened” by the death of the singer.

Warner Music Africa, her record company, also said it was “mourning” the death.

“Her lasting memory in our hearts and mind must be her ability to bring comfort and resonate with the struggles of the poorest of the poor,” the radical Economic Freedom Fighters opposition party said in a statement.

No cause of death has been announced but Zahara was admitted to hospital last month “following complaints about physical pains”, according to a family statement at the time.

In 2019, her manager revealed she was battling liver disease.

AFP