For today’s post, an early 1980s album from female mbaqanga mavens the Mahotella Queens - Ezesimanje, released in 1982 on the Hit Special label and produced by guitarist Marks Mankwane.
Naturally the staples of 1980s mbaqanga are all there – the lone lead guitar, bass, lively organ and disco drums – but unlike most of the other African pop acts of the day, this one does not follow the restrained Soul Brothers beat and instead feels much more vigorous and buoyant. Whether the presence of female singers has anything to do with it isn’t quite clear, and to be fair to the great Soul Brothers, they were always much more enthralling and exciting live on stage than on LP. (That didn’t stop them outselling the Queens and every other mbaqanga act in the 1980s though!)
The lead vocals on Ezesimanje are handled by Emily Zwane, who was the de facto leader of the group during the somewhat circuitous late 1970s – mid 1980s period, until producer Marks Mankwane dissolved the line-up and brought back three of the more famous singers who had seen the Queens through its supreme glory days of the mid 1960s through the early 1970s. (The line-up on this album, referred to by industry figures as ‘Mahotella B’, actually continued to perform together long after Mankwane terminated their services in the wake of the international breakthrough of South African music. Mankwane busied himself with the reconstituted Mahotella Queens, Mahlathini and the Makgona Tsohle Band, while the Mahotella B line-up continued to perform under that moniker for audiences at home for some years thereafter, creating some confusion among punters about which act was actually the legitimate one.)
The opening tune, “Amanga Neqiniso”, advises people to be truthful in order to gain the love of others, rather than lie and court misery. The lyrics may be tame but the vocal harmonies are sweet and pleasant, as is the Mahotella way. “Ngothini Na?” is a lovely soothing gospel ballad featuring a solo sax and spiritual vocals. The fifth track “Bongani Mntanami” chides a youngster for going out late and disrespecting his granny – a perpetually relevant topic. The last track isn’t musically outstanding but still one of my favourites: “Isono Sami” is a poignant number about a woman who says she has sinned by remaining in Johannesburg without having returned home to see her loved ones. With each passing year she has remained in Joburg despite their pleas for her to come back to see them. ‘What will I say when I go back?’ she says.
Marks Mankwane, in addition to producing the album, plays lead guitar here alongside Mzwandile David on bass. The keyboardist is Thamie Xongwana, Mike Stoffel plays the drums, while Mike Nyembe provides a secondary guitar on one or two of the numbers.
Queens (from left to right on album cover): Beatrice Ngcobo, Maggie Khumalo, Emily Zwane (lead vocals), Hazel Zwane, Caroline Kapentar.
produced by Marks Mankwane
engineered by Keith Forsyth and David Segal
Hit Special IAL 3034