We turn our focus now to some sunny early 1980s female mbaqanga. Tsamaya Moratuoa, featuring 12 Sotho songs originally released on singles in late 1979, is a 1980 release from the always wonderful Mahotella Queens. Although soul and disco music had already started to take the focus away from mbaqanga, the Queens continued to enjoy some substantial popularity thanks to strong compositions, superb vocals – and a revitalised instrumental backing: the second guitar was replaced by an organ, and the old sidestick snare was more or less exchanged for full disco-style drums.
So much of the Queens’ music of this era developed from real-life situations. The title song of this particular LP is nothing short of a masterpiece. Emily Zwane, vocalist for the Queens since 1971 and the group’s main lead singer between 1978 and 1987, wrote “Tsamaya Moratuoa” after her marriage to taxi driver Moses Mathibe collapsed. The two had got wed and moved in together in Daveyton, Johannesburg, but Emily’s job required her to tour South Africa (and surrounding countries) for up to six months of the year. After returning home from a Queens tour, Emily was shocked to discover Moses – and his belongings – absent from their marital home.
Emily later discovered that the man she loved had been legally declaring himself as unmarried for the entirety of their relationship. (For reasons known only to him, Moses continued to boast about once being with the famous Mahotella Queen for decades afterwards.) Emily, an archetypal strong woman who – for all her warmth and good nature – was never one to share her emotions, took the obviously therapeutic step of singing out her sorrow: “Go with peace, my love… you left me alone and miserable, putting your happiness before mine… I hope that wherever you go, they treat you with the same care and love I gave you… don’t cry, my love, because I’m not in tears myself… it’s true what the elders say… ‘Every difficult situation eventually comes to an end.’”
“Tsamaya Moratuoa” was a huge hit song for the Queens. Marks Mankwane arranged for the ladies to do alternate versions of the song in Zulu (“Hamba Sithandwa”) and in Tswana (“Tsamaya Moratiwa”), which won Emily the award of ‘Top Composer on Disc’ from Radio Tswana in 1981.
Another brilliant few songs come from group member Caroline Kapentar, who joined the Queens in 1973 after seven years at Mavuthela. Caroline is noted for her strong compositions - meaningful lyrics and extremely catchy melodies. "Mokgadi O Fihlile" refers to the ladies who long to see their men; the husbands who work all year long with only a brief Christmas holiday to see their wives and children. Another, "Ke Utloile", is a beautifully emotive ballad urging children to listen to their parents - this way, they'll avoid the feelings of guilt and regret when they become adults.
The other standout songs on this LP come from the creative mind of solo star Irene Mawela. (In 1979, the Mahotella Queens fell short of a few vocalists, so producer and guitarist Marks Mankwane recruited Irene and fellow solo singer Olga Mvicane to temporarily flesh out the group while they were in the studio. More permanent members were recruited later on in the form of Hazel Zwane – no relation to Emily – and Maggie Khumalo.) Irene re-arranged two traditional Sotho numbers for this album: “Mangwani Mpulele” and “Re Basadi Kaofela”. In the first number, the ladies sing the catchy English ‘it’s raining outside, raining outside’ lyrics, peppered with male vocals from dynamic soul singers Walter Dlamini and Mandla, and Irene takes the second song to a high with the repetitive ‘dumela, dumela…’ (‘greetings to you all’), performed in her usual sweet, supernatural voice.
The Queens on Tsamaya Moratuoa are: Emily Zwane (lead vocal), Irene Mawela (lead vocal), Caroline Kapentar, Thandi Nkosi, Sheba Malgas and Olga Mvicane. They are backed by The Beggers: Marks Mankwane (lead guitar), Mzwandile David (bass), Thamie Xongwana (organ), Mike Stoffel (drums). Enjoy!
produced by Marks Mankwane
engineered by Greg Cutler and Phil Audoire
Gumba Gumba BL 226