As a six-year-old member of the Lumanyano Primary School choir in rural East London, Bulelwa Mkutukana dreamt that someday people would be moved by her singing. So when a fan told her recently that her music had inspired her to move forward after losing both her parents, the 25-year-old musician, whose stage name is “Zahara”, was touched. She was performing at a club in East London where she impressed TK Nciza, the co-owner of TS Records, so much that he returned to the club with his wife and signed her on as an artist. The rest, as they say, is history. In 2011 her first album, Lolilwe, reached double platinum status in South Africa within 20 days of its release, winning her eight Samas in 2012 and two more in 2013. Zahara, who sings in her native isiXhosa as well as in English, dominated the South African Music Awards last year, winning six categories, including Newcomer of the Year, Female Artist of the Year and Album of the Year. She’s currently preparing for a string of performances around Africa, as well in London and Germany. But she hasn’t forgotten her humble beginnings. As a little girl, she taught herself to play the guitar and this eventually led her out of a life of poverty. Now she donates guitars to young girls living in Africa as a way of giving them hope, and plans to offer them free online lessons. Zahara is often hailed as South Africa’s next Miriam Makeba, and she thinks that’s amazing. “I have performed for Nelson Mandela and at Wembley Stadium, which were two of my ‘must perform’ wishes, and now my biggest wish is to perform at Castel Volturno in Caserta, Italy, where Mama Miriam Makeba passed away, as she is one of the musical icons I look up to and she also, ironically, passed away on my birthday.” — Fatima Asmal