Zahara's melody for Madiba

02 October 2011 - 02:57 By BUYEKEZWA MAKWABE

The country's newest singing sensation has staged a private performance for her number one fan - Nelson Mandela. Zahara, 23, sang Thekwane from her debut album Loliwe for Madiba at his home in Qunu in the Eastern Cape.

"I feel so blessed. And the experience was humbling," said the guitarist/singer. Born in an obscure Eastern Cape village, she is now being compared to global stars such as India Arie and Tracy Chapman.

"I'd never been so much as in a stadium with [Madiba]," Zahara told the Sunday Times.

"I cried and actually messed up in some places. But it was great. I was standing at his feet singing to him. He even asked for my guitar," she said.

The audience in Qunu comprised a handful of people, including her manager TK Nciza, Pondoland's Prince Mlimandlela Ndamase and Madiba's grandson Mandla Mandela.

After performing the song she handed the beaming elder statesman a gift - the platinum award that her album earned for passing the 40000 sales mark in September.

Just six weeks ago Zahara - born Bulelwa Mkutukane in Phumlani outside East London - was in a studio finishing off her album.

Loliwe was released late in August and flew off the shelves, selling out at some stores within 72 hours.

Within days, the buzz surrounding the previously little-known muso went viral. By Wednesday, according to EMI Music/CCP Records marketing manager Wandile Sikhosana, the album had sold more than 200000 units.

Sikhosana said sales had "broken the mother of all records".

However, the official sales figure has not been confirmed by the Recording Industry of South Africa.

Zahara gave her first big live performance in her hometown on Friday at the East London city hall where she told fans her success felt like a dream.

"She sells an average of 5000 CDs a day," said Nciza, also the CEO of TS Records, who discovered her at a jazz club in East London 18 months ago.

"I knew within seconds that what I was seeing was great," he said.

"In my head I saw her perform at the world's biggest shows. She does not just sing, she touches souls," said Nciza, who described Zahara as a "grounded child of God".

This week, after visiting her parents for the first time since her career skyrocketed, an emotional Zahara said: "My mother cried. They still can't believe any of it." They were at Friday's concert.

"It's the first time I'm performing in front of my parents. My mother was a domestic worker and my father was a factory worker. When they could not afford to send me to further my education after matric, I turned to my was all I had," she said.

Zahara, as a child, sang at Sunday school and played in a church band.

Since leaving East London last year she has shared the stage with artists like Hugh Masekela and Abigail Khubeka and served as the supporting act for R&B singer Chanté Moore.

Nciza said Zahara filled a gap as a "crossover" artist - her music is a mixture of funk, soul and traditional, with lyrics in Xhosa and English - and he predicted that international success was around the corner.

"The last time the industry was shaken like this was during the Brenda Fassie mega-hit release Memeza," said Sikhosana.

Zahara will tour Europe and the US next month.