THE battle lines have been drawn. On the one side is Zahara, on the other is Thembinkosi “TK” Nciza and Sbusiso “DJ Sbu” Leope, founders of TS Records. What’s the beef about? Money, money, money. All she wants is for the record company to pay her what she’s due, Zahara says.
And she’ll keep talking and making a noise until it happens. The Mgodi hitmaker, whose real name is Bulelwa Mkutukana, believes she was underpaid when she worked with label.
“I would get a mere R10 000 (per performance), and I had to fight for it. When I complained in 2013, they increased it to R15 000.”
Meanwhile, TS Records charged up to R100,000 for her bookings, she claims. But TK said they paid Zahara roughly R200 000 a month and don’t owe her anything.
The company went out of business in 2015 but they’ve paid her all her money, he told The Sowetan. In a statement made through their lawyers, the founders of the company said “all royalties due to Bulelwa Mkutukana were paid into her personal account”.
But Zahara (30) isn’t happy. They didn’t pay her enough when she was with them and she’s not surprised they’re denying it all now.
“Did you think they were going to admit it?” she asks.
Zahara claims she was virtually penniless while working with TS Records.
“I left because I was broke. I had to leave for my own sanity. I could see staying there was destroying me.”
She claims she was living on royalties from the Southern African Music Rights Organisation and Sheer Publishing Africa, a music publishing company that helps artists copyright their work. That’s how she managed to buy a house in Roodepoort, west of Joburg.
“I would save my money. I’m not as stupid as they make me look. Ndinayo (I have a brain).”
ZAHARA’S debut album, Loliwe, sold 350 000 copies within months of its release in 2011. It wasn’t long before she was being compared to the late Brenda Fassie whose album Memeza sold over 500 000 copies.
Zahara also bagged eight prizes at the South African Music Awards in 2012 for Loliwe and has since collected 17 gongs in total. She released three full albums with TS Records: Loliwe, Phendula and Country Girl – all in collaboration with EMI South Africa and Universal Music South Africa.
There were rumours making rounds that Zahara wasn't making any money that started circulating just after she released her first record, but she disputed it at the time. She was afraid to speak out, she says, but now refuses to be silenced.
“I am telling you the truth. I want him to produce proof that he was paying me R200 000 because I have evidence (in the form of bank statements) of the R10 000 I’m talking about, which I had to fight for.”
It was only after she left the stable that she was able to buy herself a Range Rover Evoque and pay off her house.
“I was able to do things myself because the money was coming to me directly.”
She formed her own record company, Music Lives Here Records, with former TS Records transport manager Sanele Dlamini.
But that’s also now up in the air, Zahara’s manager and cousin Oyama Dyosiba tells DRUM. They found out this month that Zahara isn’t a registered partner of MLH Records.
“She only found out last week [early April] when she wanted the documents for something that she was not a partner. Sanele revealed he was the sole owner of the company because Zahara didn’t sign the contract to register the company. He betrayed her trust because Zahara trusted him.”
Oyama says Sanele claimed Zahara couldn’t sign the company registration documents because she was drunk.
“Are you telling me Zahara has been drunk for the past three years? They were travelling together to Canada couldn’t rica and but Ame give he her the documentation to sign?” an emotional Oyama were made by DRUM to contact Sanele for comment, but all calls and messages went unanswered.
Oyama believes Zahara has been taken advantage of too many times – and she agrees. When she first got to Joburg as a teenager she was a little girl who didn’t understand the industry, she says. But that’s all changed. “I know better now and I’m picking myself up."
ZAHARA doesn’t deny she had an issue with alcohol while struggling with fame.
“It wasn’t a nice place to be in. I was frustrated and so I drank a little to find happiness. It wasn’t that I needed it or that I was Numerous attempts addicted. But I got to a point where one night I finished a whole bottle of wine by myself. I knew then I needed to speak to someone and deal with this,” she told TshisaLive.
The Umthwalo singer, who is originally from Phumlani in the Eastern Cape, says when the going got tough she wanted to go back home.
“That’s why I started drinking a lot. I didn’t care anymore. Why would I leave (TS Records) if they were paying me as much as they say and I was getting all my royalties? I left because I wasn’t happy. I wasn’t being paid enough.”
When she went home her mother, Nokhaya Mkutukana, encouraged Zahara to find her purpose in life.
“I thought whether I do gigs or not, it makes no difference. I still had to beg for my money.”
The more depressed she felt the more she turned to booze and in December she was admitted to a Joburg hospital with liver complications. But she’s on a mission to get sober now, she says. She’s been on the wagon for five months and is getting professional help.
Although being famous has made her fodder for headlines, she doesn’t regret her fame as it has given her a platform to tell her story.
And she won’t let her troubles stand in the way of her making music.
“This is a gift that God has given me and no one can take it away. I’m taking ownership of everything, including stopping drinking.”
She’s hoping speaking out will get musicians to stand together and work with record companies to help young aspiring artists get their dues.
TS Records issued a cease and desist letter to the singer preventing her from speaking to the media on the matter. She was making “false and defamatory statements”, they said.
But she’s not going to shut up, Zahara says, and she still intends to make waves in the industry.
“I’m going to make music and start afresh without all the negativity. I want to open my own company. I know what’s going on and I can stand on my own two feet. I’m no longer that rural girl who grew up herding cows and playing a guitar.”