South Africa's Royalty: Long Live the Queens!

African Business, June 2006 | Go to article overview

South Africa's Royalty: Long Live the Queens!


Reign and Shine

The Mahotella Queens

Wrasse Record

Cat: WRASS177

There are few pop groups that are able to trace their history back over more than four decades, but the mighty Mahotella Queens can do just that. They began recording in their own right for legendary South African Gallo Records in 1964 accompanying their longstanding musical partner, Simon 'Mahlathini' Nkabinde (a.k.a. the 'Lion of Soweto'). Even before this date, the Mahotella Queens' members were individually renowned studio singers who featured on the backing tracks for a galaxy of Gallo artists.

Instrumental to getting the Mahotella Queens together in the first place was the songwriter and producer Rupert Bopape. He had heard 23-year old Hilda Tloubatla singing on South Africa's state radio station SABC and he introduced her to the other two core 'Queens', Nobesuthu Shawe Mbadu and Mildred Man-gxola, as well as to Mahlathini and the Makgona Tsohle Band, a Mbaqanga instrumental band.

Mbaqanga fuses marabi (South Africa's homegrown jazz style) with gospel, traditional music drawn from Zulu, Sotho, Shangaan and Xhosa roots as well as R & B influences, and it is a style that they made their own. Together, Mahlathini along with the Mahotella Queens and the Makgona Tsohle Band recorded hits throughout the 1960's on Gallo's Motella label. But before the end of the decade the group had split up as the Mahotella Queens took almost eight years off from the music business to marry and start families.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Reformed, revitalised

They reformed in 1975, but it would take another decade before they would reunite with their former lead male singer Mahlathini and the band. But they picked up in 1985 from where they left off, creating more of their hallmark exuberant Mbaqanga music. The Mahotella Queens even released their first album without Mahlathini revealingly entitled Marriage is a Problem!

By this time Mbaqanga music was attracting international attention, most notably from a certain Paul Simon, previously best known as one half of a US folk-singing duo, Simon and Gar-funkel. The story goes that Simon had been given a pirate cassette tape of various township music styles and, greatly impressed by what he had heard, decided to travel to South Africa to track down the musicians and record his own material with them. …

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