'Incredible and lasting impact': Tributes pour in after 'true music icon' Zahara dies

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Zahara was born in the Phumlani informal settlement, outside East London. At the age of six, she started singing in her school and church choirs.

Tributes are pouring in for South African singer Zahara, real name Bulelwa Mkutukana, after news of her death at the age of 36.

The cause of the singer's death has not been revealed but she was reportedly admitted to hospital last month due to liver complications.

The singer died on Monday, surrounded by family and loved ones, according to a statement posted on her official Instagram.

"It is with heavy hearts and deepest sorrow that we announce the passing of our beloved daughter, sister, and friend, Zahara," read the statement by Zahara's family on Tuesday.

"She was a pure light, and an even purer heart, in this world. A beacon of hope, a gift, and a blessing to us and countless people around the world," the statement said.

In a statement on 27 November, the family and team said: "Zahara has been admitted to the hospital for a week following complaints about physical pains. The doctors are working diligently and we await further updates from them."

"In the meantime, we are asking for privacy on this matter; and your continued prayers for the speedy recovery of our beloved Zahara."

Zahara was born in the Phumlani informal settlement, outside East London. At the age of six, she started singing in her school and church choirs.

Zahara released her debut Loliwe in 2011, which went double platinum in less than two weeks. She released five albums altogether. She has also won multiple awards, including 17 SAMAs and three Metro FM awards.

In 2020, she was included on the BBC's 100 Women list, which featured other notable names, such as actors Michelle Yeoh and Jane Fonda, and former Prime Minister of Finland, Sanna Marin.

In 2019, she claimed that she had not been receiving royalties from TS Records for Loliwe.Record label Warner Music Africa said in a statement that it was mourning "the sudden departure of Zahara, the esteemed South African singer-songwriter recognised for her multi-platinum successes and 17-time SAMA-winning impact on the music scene".

"Zahara, affectionately known as South Africa's cherished Country Girl, leaves a lasting legacy marked by the hauntingly soulful and profoundly emotive tones of her voice."

Temi Adeniji, managing director at Warner Music Africa, added: "Zahara was a true music icon, a force whose soulful voice and heartfelt lyrics resonated deeply with fans across South Africa and beyond."

"Our deepest condolences go out to her family, friends, and the entire music community during this difficult time," Adeniji added.

Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Zizi Kodwa posted on X on Monday night: "I am very saddened by the passing of [Zahara]. 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 on South African music," Kodwa added.

Musician Lady Zamar also posted on X: "Zahara did a lot for the music industry in South Africa."

"[She] paved the way for so many others with her icon presence and guitar in hand. She will be missed. I never knew her personally, but her music was loud and brave."

The EFF wrote in a statement: "The Economic Freedom Fighters [are] deeply saddened by the passing of award-winning songstress Bulelwa Mkutukana, better known by her stage name Zahara, who passed away last night after prolonged illness and hospitalisation.""Zahara must be remembered as a pioneer in the music industry, who broke through in an industry that often discards women and destroys the lives of those who enter it," it added.Trade union federation Costau posted on  X: "Cosatu conveys its heartfelt condolences to the family of Afro-pop singer and award-winning songwriter Bulelwa 'Zahara' Mkutukana, her relatives, colleagues in the creative arts fraternity and millions of global citizens."

Actor Minnie Dlamini took to Instagram and posted: "My heart is so sore. Not only was she an incredible talent but she had a heart of gold!"

"I remember her being one of the few people that reached out to me to check if I was OK amidst my drama. We shared a beautiful bond of sisterhood that I will forever cherish," she added.

"Rest in power, and thank you Bulelwa for your indelible contribution to music."

The Portfolio Committee on Sports, Arts and Culture sent their "deepest and heartfelt condolences to relatives, friends, and Zahara's family" in a statement."This is sad news for the music industry and is a massive blow for her Afro-pop genre," said Beauty Dlulane, chairperson of the committee in the statement."Zahara's music did not matter if you were old or young, black or white, whether you spoke her native isiXhosa or not. It was good music," Dlulane said."Zahara could easily have become the Brenda Fassie of her time, but she just chose to be Bulelwa from Phumlani. This is one loss that, as a country, we will not easily recover from," Dlulane continued.

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