Monday, 1 February 2016

Traditional mbaqanga from Mahlathini and his brother - uMahlathini nabo uLungile (1984)

Today, a return to mbaqanga and to Simon 'Mahlathini' Nkabinde. This LP, recorded in collaboration with his brother Zephaniah Lungile Nkabinde and a team of session greats, is an easygoing and eclectic blend between mbaqanga and Zulu-traditional (better known now as maskandi).

Mahlathini made his return to Gallo and Mavuthela in late 1982 after a decade recording for rival record companies. The main reason for his surprise departure from the Mahotella Queens lineup in 1972 was failed promises from producer and manager Rupert Bopape, who refused to pay the members their wages after a long tour. Mahlathini was able to trade on his hugely famous persona post-Mavuthela and made a number of hits for Satbel Record Company, but musical tastes started to change and producers continued to swindle. Mahlathini went to CCP but by the early 1980s had only misses instead of hits. With Bopape now in retirement, the feud was unlikely to be reignited and Mahlathini started to pick up the pieces back at Mavuthela, the home of some of the finest musical support in the country complete with state-of-the-art production standards.

Mahlathini's first new Mavuthela recordings were compiled onto the LP Uhambo Lwami (Motella BL 396), released in 1983. In these he was mostly accompanied by the bands who had supported him through his recent fallow period, including the Mahlathini Girls and the Mahlathini Guitar Band, with producer Lucky Monama. But the album - enjoyable as it was - made little impact on the local music scene. The Makgona Tsohle Band had recently reunited to become the first true stars of African television and had already started recording two reunion albums, released with the same title as their TV show Mathaka. Guitarist Marks Mankwane decided to reunite the original triumvirate of the Mahotella Queens, Mahlathini and Makgona Tsohle. As the Mahotella Queens lineup of the time - of which Mankwane was the producer - featured no original members but was still fairly popular, Mankwane reunited some of the original Queens under a new name. The reunited act, Mahlathini nezintombi zoMgqashiyo, recorded a handful of LPs under Mankwane's production. Sales weren't extraordinary but still substantial, and it showed that with the right producer and musical support, Mahlathini could still fire on all cylinders.

In the middle of recording two of these reunion LPs, Mahlathini found time to make yet another LP produced by Lucky Monama, this time a left-field release featuring the voice of his brother Zeph. This marked the first time in nearly twenty years the duo had recorded together - the last time was as part of Abafana Bezi Modern, a shortlived male vocal jive group put together by Bopape in 1966 (an attempt to recreate the magic of the hugely successful Black Mambazo, the late 1950s-early 1960s pennywhistle-vocal jive group that had featured both Nkabinde brothers).

It's no surprise the LP carries a more traditional feel than the fervent pop-feel of the usual Mahlathini/Mahotella Queens mbaqanga - Lucky Monama was Mavuthela's producer in charge of traditional music at the time and he recorded a large number of groups with obscure, intriguing sounds. On this LP the band includes George Mangxola on lead guitar, Christian Nombewu on rhythm guitar, Zeph Khoza on drums and Noise Khanyile on violin, plus Makgona Tsohle regulars Monama on percussion and Joseph Makwela on bass guitar. The vocals are handled by Mahlathini, Zeph, Selby Mmutung (alias 'Bra Sello') and Richard Chonco.

(The title of the LP should be correctly rendered as one sentence - uMahlathini nabo uLungile - but thanks to a production screw-up, 'Umahlathini Nabo' is the 'artist' and 'Ulungile' the LP title.)

Some of the standout tracks here include "Bumnandi" with the repetitive, almost menacing groans; the laidback "Labhonga Ibhubesi" with those classic George Mangxola lead guitar licks; the unashamedly clean, crystal clear traditional vibes of "Sakhala Isiginci" and "Umcusi Nomacingwane"; plus the random bendy synth effects alongside Makwela's trademark bass phrases in "Lishonile Ilanga". Another great tune, "Qhude Manikiniki", was included in the influential 1985 compilation The Indestructible Beat of Soweto.


produced by Lucky Monama
engineered by Keith Forsyth
Motella BL 474
Zulu Vocal


Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Air Light Swingsters: Umhlobo' Mdala (1981)

Band leader and alto saxophonist Peter Mokonotela raises the criticism of bands being inclined to "ape overseas music in preference to our own traditional Afro type music. So, we have tried by all means to take old African tunes and improved on them our way, The African Jazz Sound".

Produced again by the great Hamilton Nzimande this album forefronts fantastic  inter-play among the three saxophonists, Mokonotela, Thami Madi and Shumi Ntuthu. The liner notes continue: "It is hoped that the improvisation on certain Ngoma Busuku (evening or night hymns) singers as played on reed instruments will be appreciated."

Personally, the lullaby "Thula Ulalele" has a deep resonance in the recesses of my childhood memories - mellow, soothing, secure and comforting. At the other end of the spectrum, "Ujujuju" is perhaps my upbeat favourite. All  of the tracks on this slicky produced and performed album have something to offer anyone who appreciates the intersection of Swing, African Jazz, mbaqanga, and early 1980s African pop.

Compared to last week's 1980 posting of the Air Light Swingsters, this 1981 recording comprises 12 shorter tracks spanning nearly 42 minutes - quite a squeeze for an LP. Enjoy.

Download link here

Friday, 22 January 2016

The Air Light Swingsters: Air Light (1980)

Besides the Elite Swingsters I cannot think of another South African band that recorded over a period of five decades. Put together by talent scout Lebenya Matlotlo in 1956 for a session recording, the original band was led by Johannes “Chooks” Tshukudu. Since then “the Swingsters'” were able to attract and groom a succession of highly polished musicians. Dumie Ndlovu, thanks for your request. Another album to follow next week, stay tuned.

Steve Gordon’s site has an informative biography of “The Swingsters” and describes their music  as “a blend of African melodies and harmonies with American swing, together with an added dose of New Orleans rhythm and even some rock ‘n roll thrown in for good measure.” Siemon Allen’s Flat International site pieces together further details on their first LP, and also the illustrious roll-call of band members.

Alto saxophonist Peter Makonotela joined the band in 1962 and took on the leadership role through into the 1970s. Writing the liner notes for this 1980 album shared here today, Mokonatela references what must have been a name ownership dispute: “The cats come and go, but their sound goes on and on. Personally, I think this is very important, I believe every good artist or band should and must be identified with its sound. If the sound of the Elite Swingsters can change, then there is no need to call them by that same name”.

Mokonatela was perhaps referring to the departure in the “sound” of a 1980 Elite Swingsters recording “Watch Your Step” with less brass and more key-board influence. He goes on, “If you are accustomed to the history of bands, you will know that there are good and bad times for each band. The Elite Swingsters are no exception. The bad times caught up with us, we closed shop. After an absence of 15 years from the music scene we met Hamilton Nzimande, Director of Isabaya Esikhulu, he re-launched the band.” adds to the picture: “Eventually, the musical tastes of the townships and particularly that of its youth, changed to the point that the Elites were forced into virtual retirement. During the disco era and still later when Bubblegum supplanted disco, the regular roster dwindled down to the three saxes of Paul Rametsi, Peter Mokonotela and Tami Madi. Violence and political instability precluded playing in the township halls which had formerly provided the bands stomping ground, so live performance opportunities were limited to an occasional wedding or beauty contest. Recording opportunities also dwindled and the resulting albums, none of which were particularly successful, were often issued under various sound-alike names such as the Elite Swing Stars or the Airlight Swingsters.” 

This very polished 1980 album shared today – with a second 1981 recording to come next week – harks back to that sixties swing-influenced African Jazz sound.  The reported lack of success was certainly not due to poor musicianship, but more due to changing tastes of their original target audience. Have a listen to this 1962 recording on the Drum 78rpm label:

The brass section of the Air Light Swingsters is made up of Mokonatela (1st alto) founding Swingsters alto saxophonist Thami Madi, and Shumi Ntuli on tenor sax. Further reinforcing challenges around identity and ownership, Mokonatela writes: “The cats on the rhythm section, guitar, bass, organ and drums prefer not to be mentioned”. He does say that he met these additional musicians “for the first time working on this album”.

When the “Elite Swingsters” very successfully reconstituted themselves in 1989, the brass section was made up of Albert Rululumi, Mokonotela and Madi – with Dolly Rathebe on voice.

You find other Swingsters recordings here, and here
Produced by Hamilton Nzimande.
Masterpiece LMS 563
Download link here

Monday, 18 January 2016

East Meets West: (1971)

The diversity of musics arising from South Africans of Indian origin in the early 1970s provides for some really fascinating listening. This unusual album featuring six different bands is syncretic in that it compiles musical contradictions in one place - from Indian traditional music, Bollywood film scores, heavy metal "underground" music, and western pop. As the liner notes say, "all that's best in both eastern and western music, so that you can get a representative idea of what our various artiste groups sound like. ..".

What "holds" this compilation together is that all six bands featured were made up of South Africans of Indian origin. In her doctoral dissertation, "Indian South African Popular Music, The Broadcast Media and the Record Industry 1920 - 1983" (download it here), Melveen Beth Jackson explains that:

“Until the sixties, Indian South Africans were denied the civic rights that were taken for granted by white South Africans. Broadcasting, for them, was to be a concession. On being declared South Africans, broadcast programmes were expanded and designed to pacify and Indianise Indian South Africans, preparing them for their role as a middle-class racially defined group, a homelands group without a homeland. South Africanised popular music, and Indian South African Western semi-classical, popular music, or jazz performance was rejected by the SABC. Ambiguous nationalisms shaped Indian South African aesthetics.

“Global monopoly controlled the music industry. Similarly, disruptions in the global market enabled local musicians and small business groups to challenge the majors. In the late forties and fifties, this resulted in a number of locally manufactured records featuring local and visiting musicians, and special distribution rights under royalty to an independent South Asian company. The local South African records were largely characterised by their syncretic nature, and generated a South African modernism which had the capacity both to draw and repel audiences and officials alike.”

Contradictions do abound. For example, I am still not sure what to make of the track by the Nadaraja Orchestra, entitled "The Brahma Bull" which, to my untrained ear,  has flamenco references underpinning a sound you would hear in 1960s Bollywood movies.

"The Shades of Purple" and "The El Pasos" lend a strong rock reference to this compilation. Among my favourites here is the cover of "25 or 6 to 4" that was a hit for "Chicago" in 1970.

Many of these bands played weddings and other social functions. As Muthal Naidoo describes of the Bharatia Band in the early 1970s (not on this compilation): "They were hired to play at weddings in the location and in Indian communities in Johannesburg, Benoni and Boksburg. They were spurred on in their efforts by rivalry from the Nadaraja Orchestra, which had a similar repertoire and was vying for the same market. When Abdul Gani, a Memon singer, despite opposition from some Muslims, joined the Bharatia Orchestra and sang a Tamil song, Kanay Rajah, the rival group rushed to include people from other groups in their band. For a little while, there was even a Muslim band, the Taj Entertainers, with a lead singer, Ossie."

To my untrained ear, I have found it challenging to recognise the covers of the original 1960s Bollywood songs featured in this compilation. The South Africanised versions are played by small instrumental bands with relatively simple bass-lines backing "Shadows" and even psychedelic-influenced" lead guitar work in places. Links to the original tracks are provided.

Produced by Mohamed A. Mayet.
Recording Engineer: Ian Martin.
East Meets West (Mosaic MIC 7003) 1971.

1. Oriental Dance - The Orientals
An original written by "Yousuf", Having fun with wah-wah guitar.
2. You are all I need - Shades of Purple
Psychedelic Soul roots instrumental written by Pillay / Manilall.
3. Hum Behaino Ke - The Dil Ruba
From the 1969 Bollywood movie, "Anjana" - though I must admit I find it difficult to find similarities. You can hear the original here.
4. 25 or 6 to 4 - The 1970 hit written by Robert Lamm for "Chicago" gets fuzz guitar and vocal treatment that would not be out of place on a Black Sabbath album. You can hear the original here.
5. The Brahma Bull - Nadaraja Orchestra
Flamenco references overlaid with a more discernable uptempo Indian flavour.
6. Aane Se Jiske Aaye Bahar - Naushad Entertainers
A version of the Mohammed Rafi 1969 Bollywood hit from the movie Jeene Ki Raah. You can hear the original here.
7. East Meets West - The Orientals.
Rock-driven orignal penned by "Sarwar".
8. Ride - The Shades of Purple
Attributed to "Pillay / Manilal" will bother you with its similarities to various early 70s rock hits, even down to the vocal delivery.
9. Fascination - Nadaraja Orchestra
I can picture this track filling the dance-floors at traditional celebrations like weddings.
10. Saiyan Le Gajiya - The Dil Ruba.
This track is an instrumental version, originally from the 1969 Bollywood movie "Ek Phool Do Mali". You can watch and listen to Asha Bhosle sing the original here.
11. Give Me One More Chance - The El Pasos
Seventies vocal Soul-Pop. No composer listed. Can you recognise it?
12. Tumhari Nazar - Naushad Entertainers
From the 1968 Bollywood movie Do Kaliyan. You can watch the original here.

Download link here

Friday, 8 January 2016

Siya Hamba! 1950s South African Country and Small Town Sounds

This post is dedicated to John Storm Roberts and the legacy of the Original Music Label. The following is an appreciation taken from an obituary that appeared in the NY Times at the time of his death in 2009:
" John Storm Roberts, an English-born writer, record producer and independent scholar whose work explored the rich, varied and often surprising ways in which the popular music of Africa and Latin America informed that of the United States, died on Nov. 29 in Kingston, N.Y. He was 73 and lived in Kingston. Long before the term was bandied about, Mr. Roberts was listening to, seeking out and reporting on what is now called world music. He wrote several seminal books on the subject for a general readership, most notably “Black Music of Two Worlds” (Praeger, 1972) and “The Latin Tinge: The Impact of Latin American Music on the United States” (Oxford University, 1979). In the early 1980s, Mr. Roberts and Ms. Needham started Original Music, a mail-order company that distributed world-music books and records. In those pre-Internet days, Americans outside big cities found these almost as hard to come by as young Mr. Roberts had in postwar England….In business for nearly two decades, Original Music also released many well-received albums of its own. Among them are “The Sound of Kinshasa,” featuring Zairian guitar music; “Africa Dances,” an anthology of music from more than a dozen countries; and “Songs the Swahili Sing,” devoted to the music of Kenya, an aural kaleidoscope of African, Arab and Indian sounds.

Siya Hamba - 1950s South African Country and Small Town Sounds (Original Music OMA111, 1989)
01 Young Xhosa Men - Siya Hamba (Let's Go)
02 Jacquot Mokete - Suta Tseleng (Get Out Of The Way)
03 Young Men & Boys With Harmonica - Kunukizembe Pheshakwenciba
04 Nqwane Mbongtyi - Zulaleke Mubemi
05 Xhosa Boys And Girls - Amazeyiboka (Some Socks Are Real Costy)
06 Mkakwa Mugomezungu - Izintombi Ziyasishiya (Some Girls Desert Us)
07 Frans Ncha - Adiyo Jaxo Kxaja Nkwe (You Can't Kill A Leopard With A Stone)
08 Citaumvano - Lamnandi Ugolohlano (It Fetched This Person)
09 Citaumvano - Pelila Makoti (We're Through, Makoti!)
10 Nelson Siboza & the Montanas Brothers - Bayilami Selimavukuvuku (My Blanket's Worn)
11 Timote Dlamini & The Try Singers - Pinda Zimshaya
12 Mushumbo Dlamini & The Star Brothers - Muntu Olapo
13 Jury Mpelho Band - Nonkala (The Crab)
14 Midnight Stars - Siya Hamba!
15 Jury Mpelho Band - Puma Endlini Yam (Get Out Of My House!)
16 Jury Mpelho Band - Yombela (Clap Hands)
17 The Blue Notes - No Doli Wami (The Doll)
18 Jury Mpelho Band - Babalasi (The Hangover)
19 Midnight Stars - Thula Ndivile (Be Quiet)
20 The Blue Notes - Benoni (Benoni)
21 Jury Mpelho Band - Isicatula (Boots)


Monday, 28 December 2015

Greatest Soul Hits - Vol. 2 (1972) & Vol. 3 (1973)

Well... I don't have an end-of-year mix per se. But I do have a dedicated Christmas gift for one of our keenest supporters—Manzo—who has patiently waited for these two compilations since I mentioned them in a Teenage Lovers' discography in January 2015. Perhaps therefor it is fitting to end this year with these two sets featuring a wonderful selection of mostly organ-infused soul tracks on the RPM label.

Merry Christmas, Manzo... Chris, Matt, Nick... and all our dedicated supporters!!!
Looking forward to an amazing new year!

Various Artists, RPM (RPM 7012), 1972

01) Teenage Lovers - Trinity
02) Moon Brothers - Beautiful Sunday
03) Teenage Lovers - Enemy No.1
04) Teenage Lovers - TX 15 (Playboys)
05) Teenage Lovers - Slaza's Inn
06) The Knights - Song of the Engine
07) Ben Ntoi and Tortoise - Candy
08) All Rounders - Sala Emma
09) Soul Kids - Breakfast Time
10) Teenage Lovers - Sofasonke
11) Teenage Lovers - Toto at Sis' B
12) Teenage Lovers - Victor's Money Belt
13) Teenage Lovers - Botany 700
14) All Rounders - I'm Sorry About That

Various Artists, RPM (RPM 7014), 1973

01) The Hurricanes - Expression of Love
02) The Hurricanes - I Can Feel It
03) Teenage Lovers - Let it Be
04) Teenage Lovers - Last Hope
05) Freddie Letsewene and the Young Titles - Cry For My Love
06) The Hurricanes - Love, Peace and Goodwill
07) Question Marks - Mister Moonlight
08) Teenage Lovers - Unfaithful Woman
09) Question Marks - I Won't Sleep No More
10) The Thorns - Celebration
11) Question Marks - Julia
12) The Thorns - Seteng Sediba

Monday, 21 December 2015

Classic Mbaqanga Girl Groups - Vol. 5

Happy holidays! Electric Jive welcomes in Christmas week with a brand new volume of our popular Classic Mbaqanga Girl Groups series, delving into the music of South Africa's female groups of the 1960s and 1970s. In Volume 5 we take a look at the music of the Mahotella Queens, Mthunzini Girls, Jabavu Queens, Dima Sisters, Izintombi Zomoya, Manzini Girls, Dark City Sisters, Amagugu, Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje and other solid female ensembles from the mbaqanga era. What better way to celebrate the festivities? 

Our first song is "Mphemphe Yalapisa", a recording credited to the Dima Sisters but actually recorded by the pool of singers who toured live as the Mahotella Queens. Talent scout and producer Rupert Bopape usually devised several group names with the intention of creating a number of successful girl bands. From 1964, he had a team of session singers record under a variety of different 'band names' for Gallo's Mavuthela Music division, and after two massively successful singles released under the name Mahotella Queens, Bopape spend his time carefully building up a public profile and image for the group. Key to the publicity were close relationships with the influential African announcers on the SABC's Radio Bantu service: K.E. Masinga, Hubert Sishi and Winnie Mahlangu. The line-up of the Queens solidified for impending tour dates, but Bopape continued to recruit more singers to the group before splitting it into two distinct sections around 1967 - the first continued to tour and record with Mahlathini under the name Mahotella Queens (as well as recording under several other pseudonyms), and the other (newer) section recording and touring as the Mthunzini Girls with vocalist John Moriri. In 1968, Bopape took another of the Queens' recording names - the Dima Sisters - and built it into a fully fledged group, and on the practice continued for several more years. It was a shrewd, cunning move designed not only to fill the Mavuthela roster with a selection of top girl groups, but to keep a steady supply of singers flowing through the Gallo building when the walkouts occurred: Bopape would recruit singers in their late teens or early twenties - they were young, naive and easily led by a father figure. A master A&R man, producer and songwriter, Bopape was also a hugely corrupting force who kept his artists ensconced in what could be best described as cheap labour. As the young ladies grew up, they became aware that they were working hard for essentially nothing, so they quit - only for Bopape to replace them with younger, more naive singers.

Talk of harsh pay, busy schedules and strict leadership is associated with almost all of the African music producers, who besides Bopape included Strike Vilakazi of Trutone Records; Cuthbert Matumba of Troubadour Records; then later Hamilton Nzimande of GRC's Isibaya Esikhulu Music; David Thekwane of Teal Records; and West Nkosi of Mavuthela Music to name just some. Exploitation was part and parcel of the industry, especially where young, vulnerable women were concerned. Depending on a producer's personal preference, they were either daughter figures or lovers, and any money doled out from the boss was certainly kept to an absolute minimum. Occasionally producers would succeed in poaching musical stars from their rivals with promises of healthy pay packets and better working conditions - and of course, neither prospect actually materialised. The huge irony is that the sounds that these ensembles made constitute some of the most delightful, energetic and exuberant music ever put down on record. Repetitive cycles of electrifying, lilting guitar hooks; superb female harmonies that danced between smooth blended chorus to brazen wailing; and a solo lead male assuredly bellowing his way through the tunes. Girl groups and mbaqanga music were synonymous with each other as the genre became South Africa's own answer to the Motown sound for a period of nearly twenty years.

Though producers liked to stick to recording mbaqanga tunes in the languages that sold the best - isiZulu and Sesotho, the two languages that the lion's share of African consumers spoke - songs were sometimes composed in Pedi (Sesotho sa Leboa), Tswana and Venda to ensure quotas were met. "Ka Tatampela" by the Sweet Home Dames - actually the Mthunzini Girls featuring Virginia Teffo on lead vocal - is a fun, upbeat tune categorised as 'Pedi Vocal Jive' on the 45rpm label; "Emarabini" by the Mthunzini Girls - actually Izingane zo Mgqashiyo led by Beauty Radebe - is labelled as 'Swazi Vocal Jive'. "Emarabini" is more or less a straight cover (without a credit for the original composer!) of "Siyo Ba Bamba" by Joseph Mthimkhulu and The Space Queens. The latter tune - included on Ingwe Idla Ngamabala (CBS LAB 4005) which can be found here - was a huge hit of 1967 for Isibaya Esikhulu, the African division of Gramophone Record Company. Though Rupert Bopape was certainly one of the most successful and influential producers on the scene at the time, he was not the only one. By the 1970s, Hamilton Nzimande stood as the only other producer who actively challenged Mavuthela's crown.

At Isibaya Esikhulu, Nzimande carefully cultivated a hugely successful roster of excellent female vocalists, instrumental players, composers and arrangers. Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje was Nzimande's first major success. The girl group, which eventually became a vehicle for the raspy crooning of lead singer Sannah Mnguni, rose so high in prominence that the popularity battle was dominated only by two groups - itself and the Mahotella Queens. Both groups were capable of attracting a staggeringly phenomenal amount of fans who clamoured to township halls, theatres and football stadiums just to see the beautiful voices in person. Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje was supported by the excellent Saul Tshabalala as their groaner and Abafana Bentuthuko, the backing band led by the highly innovative lead guitarist Hansford Mthembu. Nzimande's Isibaya Esikhulu operation was so successful that it became the next port of call for artists who resigned from Mavuthela. The original Mthunzini Girls quit Mavuthela to become Izintombi Zentuthuko for Isibaya in 1969, but it wasn't the fairytale move that they had imagined, and pretty soon the act disintegrated. One of the singers, Windy Sibeko, stayed on for a while, multi-tracking her vocals for certain numbers such as "Mmona Oaka", released as the S'modern Girls. In 1972, most of the original Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje members (as well as Hansford Mthembu) suddenly quit the Isibaya stable. Sibeko followed them to EMI, where they started up a new, even greater chapter of their musical career as Amagugu Esimanje Manje.
Under the orchestration of producer Bopape and flanked by a team of ingenious songwriters, musical arrangers and instrumentalists, the Mahotella Queens produced a long, wonderful stream of high quality vocal jive singles from the mid-1960s to the late 1970s. The Queens, easily the country's leading mbaqanga group of the era, perhaps benefitted from three distinct elements. The first was Mahlathini, hailed in the townships as 'Indoda Mahlathini' ('Mahlathini the main man'), a thoroughly decent and humble personality who possessed a showstopping stage persona and impressive vocal rawness. The second was Hilda Tloubatla, who Bopape positioned as the main lead singer of the Queens during its early days in 1964. Tloubatla possessed a reassuringly smooth, deeply resonant and thick vibrato-heavy vocal, a beautiful sound that clearly screamed 'Mahotella Queens' to every Radio Bantu listener. The third was the Makgona Tsohle Band. Marks Mankwane was not only the group's acclaimed lead guitarist, he was also the principal musical arranger of the Queens' music. He applied hundreds of melodies, all of them fresh and new and not one like another, to the lyrics written by the group's members, ensuring every Mahotella release was crafted to perfection. "Shaluza Max", recorded by the Queens in 1969, is a contorted celebration of Marks' talent. In 1973's sublime "Abaculi Bethu", the guitar wizard's abilities (as well as the talents of the other Makgona Tsohle Band members) are celebrated more openly. Queens' alto vocalist Juliet Mazamisa is the composer of "Madulo", recorded alongside "Shaluza Max" in 1969 and later covered by the legendary Letta Mbulu for her album Culani Nami.

It's obvious that with the success of these big groups, young women were influenced into forming their own groups and moving up to Johannesburg to try out their luck. The Temptation Kids were a group of singers trained by vocalist, producer and impresario Roxy Jila who brought them up to Johannesburg from Durban around 1970 to record for Mavuthela. Inevitably, the lure of a luxury lifestyle, big pay-packets and plenty of public appearances sent the Kids on their merry way to a rival producer, a move that both left Jila miffed and the Kids completely empty handed. One of the gems from their shortlived career was "Mamezala", a strident up-tempo vocal jive describing the emotions felt by all when a young bride leaves her home after she is married.

“Kumnandi Ezayoni”, recorded by The Pride in 1976, is an odd one. From a musical perspective, the tune is not a traditional masterpiece but deserves inclusion simply because of its intriguing all-star line-up: the groaner is Mthunzi Malinga from Isibaya Esikhulu; the lead guitarist and arranger is Hansford Mthembu from EMI; the backing band is Mthembu's troupe Intuthuko Brothers from EMI; and the vocalists are a mixture of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje and Amagugu members. All of these artists were under contract to their respective companies during the recording of this and other songs for Mavuthela's Smanje Manje label (the name ‘The Pride’ references the English translation of ‘Amagugu’). So-called ‘underground’ sessions for rival producers and companies were actually commonplace in the industry during this era - the artists had to eke out a living somehow - but it's unusual that both Malinga, Mthembu and manager/arranger Titus Masikane are all given open and honest credit on the 45rpm label rather than fictional pseudonyms as would be the norm. One wonders if they were reprimanded by their EMI bosses. Amagugu continued to record for the company for another four more years before they moved over to WEA, then back to EMI, then disbanded for good.

Four tracks in this compilation are from Izintombi Zomoya, one of Mavuthela's junior female ensembles arguably used by the bosses as a 'testing ground' for new vocalists. But during the early 1970s, the group - backed by the Zwino Zwino Boys, 'Zwino Zwino' being Venda for 'now now!' - began to develop some real attention for the first time. Thandi Nkosi was the face of the group for a while until she was promoted to the Mahotella Queens in 1972. She was replaced by Irene Mawela, whose voice glides sweetly and gracefully over the groans of Robert 'Mbazo' Mkhize and the other singers in "Siphum' Enyakatho" and "Igama Lami (Libizw'emoyeni)". In 1975, the line-up was reshuffled again and Irene began to make recordings under her own name for the first name. Her position in Izintombi Zomoya was taken by Julia Yende, who had recently returned to Mavuthela after several years (she had been the original lead singer of the Mthunzini Girls until 1969). "Sponono Ngiyeke" highlights her mournful, bittersweet lead voice.
After Yende and the other Mthunzini Girls walked out in 1969, Mavuthela replaced them with an entirely new line-up. The same pattern repeated itself in 1971 as a new third incarnation led by Beatrice Ngcobo started recording under the name. That third incarnation quit in 1972 after being denied their touring fees and found a new recording home at Satbel Record Company in 1973. Under producer C.B. Matiwane, John Moriri and the newly-named Manzini Girls set to work recreating the magic they had worked up in the Gallo studios, complete with lead guitarist George Mangxola and the renamed Soweto Boys. For some of their recordings, they were joined by former Mahotella Queens singer Juliet Mazamisa, whose creative compositions gave Moriri and the Manzini Girls some golden hits including "Baqhubi Bezimoto". Things seemed rosy for a while - Moriri and the Manzini Girls' 1975 single "Isikhova" sold four gold discs and two platinums - but astonishing sales figures do not necessarily translate into fortune for the music makers, and by 1976 they had had enough of Satbel and quit to join WEA's new African operation led by guitarist-producer Almon Memela. It was around this time that the popularity of vocal jive groups began to decline for the very first time. In desperate attempts to keep their groups relevant, producers reworked the mbaqanga format by introducing a keyboard into the band and changing the rhythm patterns to create a new sort of 'disco jive' sound. "Basali Basejoale Joale" by Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje represents a sort of 'last gasp' of the original sound, featuring two guitars - lead and rhythm - competing for the spotlight along with the obligatory organ. "Otla Ntswarela" by the Mahotella Queens is even more distinctly soul-infused, but strangely manages to create that new feel without even a trace of organ or electric piano. If one must choose a favourite from this strange era, "Woza Ungilande" by Izintombi Zomoya - complete with yet another new line-up led by Joana Thango - would have to be mine. It carries an effervescent arrangement seemingly at odds with the solemn lyrical themes of prayer and church.

Mbaqanga girl groups continued to enjoy relevance and popularity for several more years until they were finally eclipsed, first by all-male mbaqanga line-ups, then the solo stars of bubblegum music in the early 1980s. The joyous sounds of mbaqanga music vanished from the pop scene without trace. But the memorable music still exists, buried under the rubble, waiting to be fished out, cleaned up and preserved for eternity. Classic Mbaqanga Girl Groups - Vol. 5 presents a selection of 30 female mbaqanga vocal classics from the era when the genre ruled the airwaves. Hit the download link and be prepared to do some serious jiving. YEBO! :-)