Monday 7 May 2012

A missing piece of the puzzle from Isigqi Sesimanjemanje (1992)

(L to r: Jane Dlamini, Joana Thango, Janet Dlamini)

Ethnomusicologist Louise Meintjes undertook a fieldwork of sorts when she listened in on the rehearsals, attended the recording sessions and interviewed at length the members of the all-female mbaqanga group Isigqi Sesimanjemanje in the early 1990s. The relationship between those who were hoping to share their talents and reap the rewards from a potential overseas audience and those who had the power to make or break the act is a formidable one, particularly during that particular time period in South Africa. The other major factor was the presence of white engineers in the production of what was regularly termed "black music", or more coarsely, "black stuff". It is these relationships that Meintjes explored in her 2003 book Sound of Africa!: Making Music Zulu in a South African Studio when recounting Isigqi's preparation for their next album release Lomculo Unzima (This music is heavy).

Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje in 1976
(Clockwise from left: Lindiwe Mthembu, Jane Dlamini, Nobesuthu Shawe, Ruth Mafuxwana)
Isigqi Sesimanjemanje was formed in the late 1980s. Regular Electric Jive readers will be aware that this group was born out of one of the country's most popular mbaqanga girl groups, Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje (The modern girls), who - along with the Mahotella Queens - found it hard-going to sustain their sound and popularity with the onslaught of disco and (later on) bubblegum music in the early-to-mid 1980s. Izintombi succumbed and disbanded in 1985. The central figure of the group, vocalist Jane Dlamini, took the decision to regroup with three of its former members around 1988, having witnessed the growth of the international love for South African music following releases such as Duck Rock (1983), The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (1985) and Graceland (1987). A major factor in the formation of the newly named Isigqi Sesimanjemanje (The modern sound) was the success of the Mahotella Queens, the group that Izintombi was pitted against in the battle for supremacy during the "afro" era of the 1970s. Sensing that he could give them the success that they desired, Dlamini eventually managed to convince prolific producer West Nkosi to take Isigqi under his wing. It meant a split from Hamilton Nzimande, the producer who had formed the group over twenty years prior, but Nkosi had managed to send Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens crisscrossing across the globe to much acclaim and success - and could very easily do the same for Isigqi. When it came to the studio, Nkosi promptly began rearranging their sound to fit with "modern times". That included cutting a trademark of their sound from the track "South Africa" - the 1970s Korg organ sound, replacing it with synthesised marimba - as well as revising their material to fit the wedding song genre.

Louise Meintjes' Sound of Africa! documents the making of Isigqi's 1992 album by placing it within the context of South Africa's political history and the lineage of mbaqanga music itself. The only major flaw with the book is not the text - it is the fact that a copy of Lomculo Unzima was not included with the finished work. Long out of print, this album is presented to you by Electric Jive in the hope of plugging something of a gap that has remained unfilled heretofore. Although the material here does stray quite a bit from EJ's usual focus, we are sharing this recording not only to assist the ongoing internet documentation of all South African musics, but to bring added colour to the words of Meintjes' book - and to bring the voices of Jane Dlamini, Joana Thango and Janet Dlamini... and every musician associated with them... to life.


LOMCULO UNZIMA (Isigqi Sesimanjemanje)
Africa AFRLP 029



1 comment:

  1. thanks for helping us hear this obscure work!


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