BY GRANT MOYO
Multi-platinum award-winning South African singer-songwriter Bulelwa Mkutukana, affectionately known as Zahara, has released her long awaited album titled Nqaba Yam.
Dropped on Friday alongside Izolo, the second lead single after Nyamezela, the latest offering has been described as the artist’s most honest and personal album yet.
Penning down every song, Zahara reunited with producer and long-time collaborator Mojalefa “Mjakes” Thebe. The latest body of work which is a succession to her previously released album Mgodi that went gold within a day of it launching, conveys a recurring theme and text purporting that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.
As one of the most exciting musicians to come out of South Africa, Zahara’s debut album Loliwe, which was dropped in 2011 was certified double platinum only 17 days after its release.
The album went on to sell in excess of 100 000 copies and garnered eight South African Music Awards (Samas). Zahara bagged four more accolades at the esteemed award ceremony for her efforts on her follow up album titled The Beginning Live. She set her sights on the future and further success heralded with new music in 2017. With a decade in the ever-evolving music industry, Zahara has over 30 awards under her belt, including a total of 17 gongs from the South African Music Awards.
Now in the next chapter of her musical career, the excitement has not waned, as her incredible journey continues to garner media interest from all quarters. Having spiritually connected with her faith and found solace in God’s mercy, Zahara introduces fans to her pillar of strength throughout her trials and tribulations.
Nqaba Yam serves as a pick-me-up volume of praise and worship music. The soothing healing soulful melodies of the 12-track album paired with introspective lyrics, oozes a newfound confidence in Zahara’s distinct voice.
The singer-songwriter’s aura is effervescent and light as air. she is letting her masterful guitar skills do all the talking while taking listeners on a sonic stroll in a botanical garden. Much like the fiery red dress she dons on the artwork of the album, Zahara is the ray of sunshine that many have yearned for in the midst of the Covid-19 global pandemic.
The title track Nqaba Yam is the perfect album opener, which sets the tone quite well. Straight off the bet Zahara let listeners know that this is her gospel away from the glitz and glamour, she has given all her trust and hope to God. This song is a classic Zahara Afro-pop banger, from the instrumental to the piercing vulnerability in her velvety vocals.
With a modern country guitar intro, Sinda Mphefumlo is a reminder that Zahara is still an unapologetic Eastern Cape country girl at heart. In this journal entry, she is fighting both her internal and external demons, her heart and soul are heavy.
Keeping with the country motif, Ndikhona has the potential of a Zahara anthem written all over it. The songstress creates a mystery, keeping the listener guessing if this is a love letter to a friend or lover. Zahara makes a holy plea to God with an emotionally charged track titled Ndincede.
She has been in the trenches, a lot of unpleasant things have been said about her and needs all the strength in the world to pull through it all.
Bawo is a first taste of Zahara in full gospel mode as she seems to start connecting with her faith and leaving it all in the Lord Almighty’s capable hands, following her prayer request in the previous cut.
Halfway through the album, Zahara switches it up with Systems and the multi-award winning artiste shows that she is woken up as she fights social injustices. It is a stripped-down acoustic guitar number exquisitely simple and elegant.
Fresh off making her political statement, Zahara gives a throwback to Sophiatown with Ntak’encinane. The mid-tempo tune displays a more fun and boogieing Zahara for the first time on the album. It is a feel-good song, which will have audiences snapping their fingers and kicking up their heels in euphoria. Senzeni has a maskandi vibe (a kind of Zulu folk music) to it and is the most intense song on the album. It is a female empowerment chant dedicated to victims and survivors of gender-based violence (GBV).
Sounding brilliantly exposed and authentic, Nyamezela, a precursor to the album is a stand-out track that is very radio-friendly. This is a song for everyone with a relatable and strong message of resilience and courage. The beat is electric, making it a road-trip banger.
Forgiveness is what Zahara preaches in Izolo, the second official single from the album is another mid-tempo song. The songstress nudges that holding onto grudges is never good for anyone, forget the pain of yesterday and focus on the promises of today.
Belting out every delicate and soft note, Forever Yours is an all the way up-tempo with a throbbing beat that demands audiences to lose their minds and morals by dusting off their dancing shoes, getting ready to make love to the dance floor. It has a “put me on repeat, full blast and sing along” effect, that clearly illustrates how Zahara has found her nirvana. With new music that is fresh, simple and organic like the cornrows she sports on her head, the singer-songwriter bows out with a message of hope for all the dreamers with Iphupho Lam.
Being among the most decorated artistes in South Africa with over 400 000 albums sold and 366 000 Instagram followers, Zahara made the list of BBC 100 Women (2020) that celebrates inspirational and influential women across the globe. Having toured the United States and Canada with American Grammy award-winning legend, jazz saxophonist and songwriter Kirk Whalum, Zahara believes that her star is only beginning to rise. As her trajectory to the top continues, she is fondly inspiring through music with the world on her doorstep.
- Follow Grant Moyo on Twitter: @TotemGrant