Today’s offering is from the mbaqanga-traditional group Usizwe Namatshitshi, one of the popular bands of the day and one of the groups at the forefront of producer Hamilton “Vala” Nzimande’s prolific production house Isibaya Esikhulu Music. Noma Ungayaphi Bakhala Ngathi, released on the CBS label, was released in 1971.
The South African black music market of the mid-1960s had been dominated by the infectious sounds of mbaqanga and mgqashiyo, with the most successful artists utilising the now-familiar elements of a girl group, a male groaner and a backing team. Gallo’s Mavuthela division, under producer Rupert Bopape, had mostly perfected this formula – but Hamilton Nzimande was the only rival producer to build up a strong roster of musicians that seriously challenged the crown. Mthunzi Malinga, Joseph Mthimkhulu and Saul Shabalala rivalled Mavuthela’s Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde, Boy Nze Magatole and Robert “Mbazo” Mkhize; Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje opponents were the Mahotella Queens; and Abafana Bentuthuko jived as hard as the Makgona Tsohle Band.
Another of Nzimande’s popular acts was Usizwe Namatshitshi, a combination of singer-groaner Sizwe Mazibuko and the five-strong female troupe Amatshitshi (The princesses), comprising Busi Dlamini, Nomusa Mathebula, Dudu Hlophe and others. The sound of Usizwe Namatshitshi was a pleasant and strong meld of traditional Zulu harmonies and rhythms with the melodic patterns of mbaqanga. Their stage outfits were strikingly custom, with beads, brassieres and battle shields, and their songs were of the appropriate material: “Mnikeleni Induku Yakhe” (“give them our fighting sticks”) is but one example. Much of their material was written by producer Nzimande (who is also credited as “musical director” on this LP) but several group members also contributed lyrics. The composer credits of Noma Ungayaphi Bakhala Ngathi rather interestingly reveal that both Meshack Mkhwanazi and Albert Motha had begun their musical careers in the backing band of Usizwe Namatshitshi – both Mkhwanazi (a rhythm guitarist, bassist and drummer) and Motha (a guitarist and vocalist) went on to become the founder members of the last successful band of mbaqanga’s heyday, Amaswazi Emvelo, in 1978. By that point, mbaqanga was faltering in popularity - but it is a testament to both members that Amaswazi was a group that was consistently popular and highly productive until the late 1980s.
The traditional rhythms on this LP are catchy indeed, and although our copy of the LP isn’t in the best of conditions, it’s something I felt we should share with you. Enjoy!
NOMA UNGAYAPHI BAKHALA NGATHI (Usizwe Namatshitshi)
CBS LAB 4022
1. NOMA UNGAYAPHI BAKHALA NGATHI
2. AMAQEMBU AYAGIYA
5. UBABA UFIKILE
7. SIZONGENA KANJANI ENKUMBA
8. UYANGIZUNGEZA LOMBEMU
9. MADODA SESIKHATHELE
10. MNIKELENI INDUKU YAKHE
11. SIYATSHINTSHA KULONYAKA