Zahara left a lasting musical legacy

Zahara left a lasting musical legacy

By Tswlopele Makoe

THE passing of African icon, award-winning, esteemed Afro-soul songstress Zahara – born Bulelwa Mkutukana – has left a huge vacuum in the South African music scene and beyond.

The unexpected news of her passing earlier this week, confirmed by her family as well as the SA Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture Zizi Kodwa, left the global community reeling in grief.

Zahara was only 36.

The media, as well as scores of fans across social media are devastated by the young legend’s passing, noticeable by an outpouring of tributes and condolences.

A widely publicised memorial service was held in her honour on Thursday, and her burial is scheduled for the December 23, in her hometown of East London in the Eastern Cape.

Zahara’s was a rags-to-riches story, of obscurity to stardom. Her debut album Loliwe went double platinum.

She also produced multiple chart-topping singles, a platinum album as well as a triple-platinum album, 17 South African Music Awards, three Metro FM awards, amongst many other accolades.

Her distinguished music was listed at number one on iTunes. Additionally, she was listed on BBC’s (British Broadcasting Corporation) 100 women. Zahara was also a Nigerian Entertainment Award recipient, and the second musician in the entire South Africa – after the late Brenda Fassie – to sell 100 000 copies of her album within a short period of only19 days.

Zahara was perhaps the most uniquely recognisable voices from Southern Africa. The Xhosa musician was not only artistically gifted, but her music was profoundly genuine.

The value of her music was not only felt by her loved one’s and community, but by the national and global community at large.

The late Zahara

Warner Music, Zahara’s record label at the time of her passing, has hailed her musical career as one that will leave “a lasting legacy, marked by the hauntingly soulful and profoundly emotive tone of her voice”.

She was a distinctly African musician who expressed her culture, her values, and her experiences through her music. She was commended by many for being vulnerable and authentic in her art.

Zahara’s music was not only impactful to the recording industry, but also to the society in which she lived. Her music was a candid expression of pain, hurt, love and other deeply relatable human experiences. Music, in itself, is deeply emotive.

For those that embody the skill passionately and successfully, music represents a chance to empower oneself and one’s family, to influence one’s community, and to enact meaningful change through their message.

Socially, music has a unifying influence, one which transcends differences in language and cultures. Music is a clear tool for societal consolidation, and an expression of reality from an individual, societal level.

Furthermore, music has been powerful in showcasing the voices of the voiceless in society.

This was especially evident during the abhorrent Apartheid era, when renowned South African musicians, such as Mariam Makeba, Jonas Gwangwa, Letta Mbuli, Caiphus Semenya and Hugh Masekela, among others, used their art form to expose the barbarity and atrocities of the apartheid regime.

The influence of these musicians, and their uniquely African expression, was carried through and highly influential to the musicians of the 80’s, 90’s and the 21st century, such as Boom Shaka, Mandoza, TKZee, Lebo Mathosa, and Skwatta Kamp.

Music as an agent of social justice was also evident throughout the globe, for example through the music of Bob Marley in Jamaica, Oliver Mtukudzi in Zimbabwe, and Wyclef Jean in Haiti, to name a few.

Contextually, music can also derive from the society itself, and the experiences or inclinations of the current global society. In South Africa, for example, music such as Kwaito and Amapiano was derived by those who live in the modern context, with influences from the musicians of the past.

Similarly, music genres such as afro-beats, grime, and K-pop have derived from modern societies globally, with historically – sometimes international – influences.

A great example of this was Zahara whose musical style was influenced by Tracy Chapman and Indie Arie, musicians who did not originate in her own context or immediate community.

Music, as such, is a form of activism, of bravery, and of sincerity. The culture, language, upbringing, society, and values of musicians are evident in their artistic expression.

As such, the fame of these musicians especially highlights the narratives and experiences that are often times excluded from mainstream media and mainstream music culture.

Musicians use their art form for cultural and social transformation, particularly in repressed regions of their nations. Music is permanent and cannot be undone.

As such, it is a constant motivation for those that consume it. In this sense, Zahara will live forever. Her music immortalises her.

In the South African context, we are a multicultural, multilingual, and multi-ethnic society. There is a plethora of music genres and styles that derive from our society.

We need to hone in on music as a practical tool in our society, not only for its transformational value, but also its entrenchment into the history and culture of our broader society.

We need to use Zahara’s music and music in general as a motivational tool, as a progressive tool, and as an opportunity to expand our potential and collaboration in society.

Our world only continues to grow more progressive, and various genres of music overlap and interlink nowadays. However, this is solely due to the musicians that were brave enough to transcend the boundaries that are often imposed on them, and to believe in their craft as a tool of cohesion and solidarity.

We need to work to defend and promote the legacy of Zahara and other musicians, in the same ways that they work to promote our social and cultural empowerment.

Musicians are not only fixed in the historical legacy of the nation, but also the musical legacy of the nation, and all those that they continue to influence.

Zahara, and all of the fallen stars, will be influencing the musical landscape until the end of time. They will certainly inspire the music produced in the future, not just nationally, but all over the world.

As author Sarah Dessen proclaimed: “Music is the great uniter. An incredible force. Something that people who differ on everything and anything else can have in common.”

* Tswelopele Makoe is a Gender Activist. She is also an Andrew W Mellon scholar, pursuing an MA Ethics at UWC, and affiliated with the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice. The views expressed are her own.