South African singing sensation Zahara was the big winner at the 18th South African Music Awards held at Sun City on Monday.

And the winner is….

Zahara was the winner of the following awards:

Lolilwe

Zahara also opened the awards ceremony singing her award-winning single, Loliwe, from the award-winning album of the same name.

The 24-year-old, big-voiced, soulful Afro-pop singer with humble roots only burst onto the scene last year and was billed alongside Hugh Masekela, James Ingram and Lauryn Hill and starred on the Cape Town International Jazz Festival’s magazine cover earlier this year.

The recognition is part of her extraordinary rise with her debut album Loliwe selling out in 72 hours.

“The past six months, I’d say it’s a blessing in my life. It’s exciting, it’s overwhelming at the same time,” she told AFP.

Joan Armatrading and Tracy Chapman

Born Bulelwa Mkutukana in a poor Eastern Cape village, her lyrics tell of heavy burdens to new hope, themes that resonate deeply. Her voice has drawn comparisons to Tracy Chapman, Joan Armatrading and India Arie. Even Adele.

“They can’t really place me in one place,” said Zahara whose name means ‘budding flower’ in Arabic.

“People will always want to try and listen who do you sound like. I don’t know why they do that, so that means I’ve got this unique music that maybe it entails all those people.”

Sings for Nelson Mandela

Asked to sing for Nelson Mandela, who has not been seen in public since 2010, she found him late last year at his rural Eastern Cape home reading a newspaper that had her picture on the front page.

“That was emotional for me. I remember I cried when I started singing to the finish and I even messed up my song,” she recalled.

“Instead of starting with the first verse, I started with the second because I’ve never seen Tata (father) in my life and the first time I get to see Tata Mandela, I get to perform for him and I’m sitting right at his feet. So you can imagine.”

Zahara’s mom a domestic worker

“My mom’s a domestic worker and at home we’re six and I’m the fifth born so it was quite a struggle for us, but we had each other,” she said.

“Even if some nights we’d sleep without food or go to school without shoes, but my mom always kept us together by prayer.”

Rolling Stone’s newly launched South African magazine profiled her on the cover of its second edition in January.

Check out Zahara’s video for “Loliwe” below and scroll down to participate in our poll!

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