Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Classic Mbaqanga Girl Groups! - A Special EJ Mix



















Continuing the mbaqanga theme (if you haven't already, see Chris Albertyn’s excellent post featuring, among others, West Nkosi, Reggie Msomi, the Mthunzini Girls, and a jive-tastic Nick Moyake), Electric Jive today presents another "EJ mix" of classic mbaqanga material – featuring tunes from some of the great female mbaqanga groups of the 1960s and the 1970s.

In the mix, we spotlight some well-known groups and vocalists. Here are a few insights into the artists that form the basis of today’s special posting.

Top of the list here at EJ is undoubtedly the Mahotella Queens (who also recorded as Soweto Stars, Izintombi Zo Mgqashiyo, Mahlokohloko Stars, Sweet Home Dames, and Dima Sisters), whose signature vocal and dance styles put them on the road to stardom during the mid-to-late 1960s. Backed by the Makhona Tsohle Band and fronted most of the time by their king, Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde, the Queens ruled supreme from 1964 until the late 1970s, when female groups – along with the popularity of mbaqanga generally – began to wane. More than thirty female singers have at one time constituted the line-up of the Mahotella Queens, though their stage appearances have never featured more than six ladies at a time. The more notable members over the years have included sopranos Hilda Tloubatla, Nunu Maseko, Emily Zwane and Thandi Nkosi, altos Juliet Mazamisa, Nobesuthu Shawe and Windy Sibeko, and tenors Mildred Mangxola and Caroline Kapentar among many others. The current line-up of the Queens contains three of the original 1960s team, and they continue to draw big audiences (particularly in Europe) to this day. See here for a much fuller history of the Queens, get the first Queens LP here, and see here for a special EJ mix devoted to Mahlathini.

Of equally significant importance is Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, who were formed in 1967 as a rival team to the Queens. By the time Izintombi was formed, the Queens had set in stone their unique styling and were the yardstick by which other female mbaqanga groups were measured. But with a line-up that included – at various points – Sannah Mnguni, Nunu Maseko, Thoko Khumalo, Jane Dlamini, Nobesuthu Shawe and Lindiwe Mthembu – it wasn’t easy for the Mahotella Queens of the 1970s to keep up with Izintombi! The classic live line-up of the early 1970s was the trio of Jane Dlamini, Lindiwe Mthembu and Nobesuthu Shawe (stood on the stage in that order), but the recording line-up also featured Ruth Mafuxwana and Hilda Tloubatla in prominent voice. Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje members also recorded under the name S’Modern Girls. Along with the Mahotella Queens, Izintombi found it hard going to sustain their popularity into the 1980s, even with a revised sound. Two mushroomings of the original group still exist to this day but only on very small, local scales. Here is a collection of some of Izintombi’s best 1960s material, and here is a share of one of their late 1970s albums.

Julia Yende’s strong vocal talent rose her to the top. She started first with the Dark City Sisters in the early 1960s, and then in the Mahotella Queens from 1966. Her talent earned her the love of king Mahlathini and then, following a brief spell in the Queens recording and touring line-ups, a group of her own: the
Mthunzini Girls (previously one of the loose pseudonyms used for the Queens).
Mthunzini Girls usually comprised Yende alongside Windy Sibeko, Thoko Mdlalose, Virginia Teffo and Teddy Nkutha in their 1960s heyday, but by the early 1970s, opened up to include Olive Masinga, Phyllis Zwane and Irene Mawela. Some of the more junior Mthunzini Girls members also recorded under the name Izingane Zo Mgqashiyo. Another notable group who also recorded under the Izingane Zo Mgqashiyo name is Izintombi Zomoya, featuring (most notably) Thandi Nkosi, Caroline Kapentar, Beatrice Ngcobo, Constance Ngema and Eunice Kwekwe – some of whom became talented enough to rise through the ranks and join the Mahotella Queens frontline in the late 1970s and early 1980s. See here for an excellent 1973 Izintombi Zomoya album.

By all means a first-rate act, the one and only
Dark City Sisters were a vital part of the mbaqanga girl group scene of the 1960s. Formed in 1958 and quickly becoming South Africa’s most popular female group of the early ‘60s, the Sisters were at the forefront of the shift from the old marabi swing rhythms to the harder, sturdier and yet more traditional jive sound of the 1960s. At the helm of the group in spite of an ever-changing line-up was the sweet-voiced Joyce Mogatusi. Various groupings of the Sisters also recorded as the Killingstone Stars and the Flying Jazz Queens. Some of the most significant voices to grace the Sisters throughout the years aside from the great Mogatusi include Nunu Maseko, Esther Khoza, Grace Msika, Audrey Zwane, Doris Ntuli and Emily Zwane. After the formation of the Mahotella Queens and subsequent growth of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, the Sisters were forced to update their soft styling to the new, tough mbaqanga. The Sisters remained popular and active, but in the shadow of these new, younger groups. After a brief split in 1971, the group returned with Joyce at the helm in 1973.
The Sisters continued to record and perform until the early 1980s when they again split up. They were back again by the end of the decade, though, and recorded a comeback album in 1994 (which we hope to share with EJ readers sometime soon). The Sisters are still around in one form or another today, featuring the magic duo of Joyce Mogatusi and Grace Moeketsi (formerly Msika) – both of them still golden voices in their golden years. Here is a classic album of their very early (1960 – 1962) material.

Irene Mawela was seventeen years of age when Rupert Bopape saw her singing at a wedding in Limpopo. Impressed with her sweet, saccharine vocals, Bopape quickly brought her to Johannesburg (one assumes with Irene’s parents’ permission!) and so she began a lengthy career as a studio singer: first with Bopape at EMI (and in such legendary line-ups as the Dark City Sisters and the Killingstone Stars), then with Cuthbert Matumba at Troubadour, then under Daniel Makhubela at Trutone, and finally back with Bopape at Gallo’s Mavuthela in 1969. At the company she began recording with a small session quintet under the names Irene and the Sweet Melodians, and the Mgababa Queens. She also recorded her instantly recognisable voice onto hits by the Mthunzini Girls and Izintombi Zomoya, the lower-tier girl group line-ups. Bopape and Mawela grew close and, by the mid-1970s, were man and wife. Further into the 1970s, Bopape and Mawela began working together more closely in the studio – writing together and later on singing together. Mawela graduated up into the line-up of the Mahotella Queens around 1978, where she stayed for a few years before launching her own solo career.

Lastly, The Queens (not the Mahotella Queens!) were the tight band of female singers who backed Mahlathini at Satbel Record Company (from 1972 to 1977) and EMI (1978 to c. 1980). When Mahlathini left Gallo-Mavuthela in 1972, some of the Mahotella members followed him, creating the newly-formed The Queens. Most notably Mildred Mangxola (the leader of The Queens), Jane Makhanya, Nunu Maseko and Thoko Nontsontwa. The other singers included Paulina Zulu, Jane Twala, Belinda Sithole and Agnes Mhlauli. Although they primarily served as Mahlathini’s backing group, they sometimes recorded their own fantastic songs – two of the best are contained here.

The thirty wonderful tunes in this EJ mix were originally recorded between 1962 and 1977, at the height of mbaqanga's rule over the townships of South Africa. Tough guitar, pounding bass, growling basses, and sublime female close-harmony vocals. What more could one ask for?

Do yourself a favour... download this mix, listen to these fantastic grooves, and get ready to jive 'til you drop! YEBO!

Classic Mbaqanga Girl Groups!
1. THOKO - MAHOTELLA QUEENS (1964)
2. LALELA MNTANAMI - KILLINGSTONE STARS (1962)
3. UMKHWEKAZI - DARK CITY SISTERS (1962)
4. HAMBA PHEPHA LAMI - IZINTOMBI ZO MGQASHIYO (1967)
5. KHANYISANI ISIBANI - IZINTOMBI ZOMOYA (1973)
6. UMKHUMBI KA NOAH - IZINGANE ZO MGQASHIYO (1969)
7. ISINKWA NOBANANA - IZINTOMBI ZESI MANJE MANJE (1967)
8. SILANDELA UMGQASHIYO - MTHUNZINI GIRLS (1967)
9. MAKOMANE - DIMA SISTERS (1964)
10. WOZA MABALANE - MAHLOKOHLOKO STARS (1967)
11. UMAHLALA EHLATHINI - IZINTOMBI ZESI MANJE MANJE (1971)
12. HOLE THABA - DARK CITY SISTERS (1966)
13. EVELYN - KILLINGSTONE STARS (1962)
14. SPONONO - DARK CITY SISTERS (1967)
15. MMATHOBELA - MAHOTELLA QUEENS (1977)
16. IGAMA LAMI - IZINTOMBI ZOMOYA (1975)
17. REKENI KASE JUALEJUALE - S'MODERN GIRLS (1974)
18. MMADITABA - IRENE & THE SWEET MELODIANS (1975)
19. ISITIMELA - THE QUEENS (1976)
20. LETLAPA LABUTSOA - DARK CITY SISTERS (1974)
21. THAKA TSESO - IZINTOMBI ZOMOYA (1971)
22. DUMAZILE - SWEET HOME DAMES (1968)
23. ISALUKWAZI - IZINTOMBI ZESI MANJE MANJE (1967)
24. MMAMOKWANGTITI - DARK CITY SISTERS (1967)
25. AMAZONDO - MTHUNZINI GIRLS (1967)
26. NTSHWARELE NTATE - MAHOTELLA QUEENS (1975)
27. ZOLILE - THE QUEENS (1975)
28. AWUFUNI UKULANDELA NA? - S'MODERN GIRLS (1974)
29. EZOMCULO - DARK CITY SISTERS (1974)
30. SESHEGONG SAMELODI - DIMA SISTERS (1967)

RS / MF

7 comments:

  1. You spoil us all Nick - and we learn in the process. Thanks.

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  2. Straight to the heart! Wonderful material hightlighted with crosslinks... in the naming of names and gentle unpicking of the interwoven line up threads you return the music to the artists. You surpass yourselves and delight your audience. Thank you. Again!

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  3. I come from a region in Kenya which has traditionally exposed itself to Southern African artists.Ntombi Marhumbini,Girlie Mafura,Freddy Gwala,Pamela Nkutha,Yvonne Chaka Chaka(obviously),Vuyelwa etc are household names here.So naturally I feel at home here though are artists here belong to a different era.I read from a review that Paul Simon collaborated with some mbaqanga musician( Phiri et al).That's pretty much how i got here.I immersed nyself into this mix and now as I write this I've put track 28. AWUFUNI UKULANDELA NA? - S'MODERN GIRLS (1974 on loop on my player.I can't get enough of it.My player shows that I've repeated it 31 times!!!!.Thank you for this gift of music.

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  4. Is this mix available as individual tracks, like #3?

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  5. Hi Rob - when time allows, I shall upload new versions of both #1 and #2 with individual tracks. Thanks for your comment!

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  6. Awesome, great comps, thanks for the time & effort ..

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