Monday 23 January 2012

Mahotella Queens - Pitsa Tse Kgolo (1982)

A simple offering today, but one I hope you will enjoy. Pitsa Tse Kgolo, recorded in late 1981 and released in new year 1982, is a Sotho/Pedi language album by the Mahotella Queens, produced by Marks Mankwane and released on Gallo's Hit Special label.

Pitsa Tse Kgolo ("the big pot" [idiom: melting pot of music]) was one of a steady stream of LPs released by the then-familiar line-up of the Queens, led by the throaty Emily Zwane. The album contains that classic Mahotella vocal sound combined with the typical early eighties mbaqanga beat - crystal clear guitar, thumping bass, soulful drums and shimmering keyboards. Some readers may recognise the title of the LP as a lyric from Mahlathini and the Queens' 1987 song "Melodi Yalla", a tune that pays tribute to Gallo-Mavuthela by calling it a big melting pot of music - but no version of this song actually appears on this album! The phrase "pitsa tse kgolo", however, had often been utilised in songs over the years to refer to Mavuthela and its music, so its usage as the title of this 1981 LP is perhaps incidental.

"Ditaba Tse Monate" is a nice tune to open the LP. It features some brief lead vocals from vocalist Virginia Teffo (a studio regular since around 1967), lovely Marks guitar, and tight Queens harmonies. Tenor singer Sinah Thibedi takes over in "Tate Nswarele", composed with male soul vocalist Willie Rasebotsa (though his voice does not appear on this album). The pace keeps up through to the Rupert Bopape-Marks Mankwane penned number "Lebowa Le Legolo", a tribute to the North of the country to which this album is dedicated. (Pitsa Tse Kgolo was so popular with Pedi listeners that a follow-up album, Tsa Lebowa, was recorded and released later in 1982.) "O Somela Byalwa" is another straightforward tune that contains pleasant and tightly-binding harmonies. "Dikgupa Marama" is something of an oddity in as much as it throws soul into the mix - but that's no bad thing. Marks is clearly adept at playing in different styles and the long honed "strong" vocal styling of the ladies is put to great use here. It isn't a tune to miss, and the same goes for "Koko". That song, closing the LP, is a lovely soul ballad written by Virginia Teffo in tribute to her grandmother.

The ladies in 1982, being handed carnations by their producer and mentor Marks Mankwane.
L to r: Emily Zwane, Hazel Zwane, Caroline Kapentar, Marks, Beatrice Ngcobo

Though by 1981 the Makgona Tsohle Band had dissolved (not reuniting until 1983 after a 6-year break), producer Marks Mankwane had put together a unique combo of musicians which he named The Beggers to back his mbaqanga/soul artists, including the Queens. (If you haven't already, check out Teaspoon Ndelu's wonderful 1981 LP Ke Kopa Madulo, released shortly before Pitsa Tse Kgolo and featuring excellent on-time accompaniment from The Beggers.) Marks the guitar wizard cuts through the rhythmic atmosphere with his talents, backed by virtuoso Mzwandile David on bass and the other Beggers.

The 1964-1971 period was perhaps the heyday of the Queens - the triumvirate of Mahlathini, the Queens and the Makgona Tsohle Band was a strong steamroller that was hard to beat. 1971 saw the line-up of the Queens begin to change significantly (Mahlathini himself left the team in 1972 for 11 years) and, although the Queens continued to sell-out township halls and garner huge album sales for the next few years, their popularity - and the listenership of mbaqanga - faltered somewhere around 1978-onwards after the infamous political tension and no mbaqanga act was ever to regain its glory (at least within South Africa. Mahlathini and the Queens went onto become more celebrated overseas than at home). Despite this shift, some of the more famous mbaqanga artists continued to record and perform and did so with some degree of success (perhaps they could draw an audience because of the fame of their name). The Queens somehow managed to hang onto a sizeable core of listeners and record-buyers and as such the line-up was able to remain fairly active during these disco/soul-heavy years! (In fact, even when bubblegum music took hold and mbaqanga lost the battle with black listeners, Marks continued to preside over a number of various Queens productions. He left Gallo in 1984 and briefly ran his own independent label, "Mankwane", before joining CCP/EMI as a producer. He eventually returned to Gallo with old friend West Nkosi's persuasion in 1986. Unsurprisingly, Marks took the Queens with him wherever he went!)

Pitsa Tse Kgolo features a line-up consisting of Beatrice Ngcobo, Emily Zwane, Virginia Teffo, Sinah Thibedi, Maggie Khumalo and Caroline Kapentar. This was more or less the group that sustained the Queens during the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, until the original (1964-1971) line-up reunited for the international breakthrough.


PITSA TSE KGOLO (Mahotella Queens)
Hit Special HIL 2004

10. KOKO


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