Monday 16 February 2015

Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgqashiyo - Dithoriso Tsa Morena (1984)


The majority of South Africa’s indigenous population identifies itself as Christian. As such, it is no surprise to learn that traditional gospel is one of the country’s most popular musical genres of all time. It is therefore fitting to follow last week’s post spotlighting the famous King’s Messengers Quartet with another album of beautiful religious harmonies. Dithoriso Tsa Morena is a 1984 release from Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgqashiyo – the name under which Mahlathini and the original Mahotella Queens recorded during their first reunion – featuring 12 rearrangements of traditional Sotho hymns.

The 1980s saw fate conspiring to reunite the original stars of mbaqanga’s heyday – Mahlathini, the Mahotella Queens and the Makgona Tsohle Band, the triumvirate otherwise known as the top township act of the 1960s through the mid-1970s. Following the introduction of the first black television service in 1982, Gallo-Mavuthela producer West Nkosi regrouped the original Makgona Tsohle Band and pitched the innovative idea of a musical sitcom to the SABC. This idea was accepted and within a year, Mathaka was a hit with township audiences, providing entertainment and evoking nostalgia among a slightly older generation of fans. Later in 1982, king of the groaners Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde made his long-awaited return to Mavuthela after a ten-year period recording for other companies including GRC, Satbel and EMI.

Marks Mankwane, lead guitarist and producer of the Mahotella Queens and one of Mavuthela’s finest song arrangers, reckoned that if Makgona Tsohle and Mahlathini were back in the same recording stable, the original mgqashiyo maidens should complete the trio – but there were two problems: firstly, the Mahotella Queens of the early 1980s featured none of the original members; and secondly, this same line-up of early ’80s Queens was still fairly successful and popular with audiences. So, Mankwane went ahead and reunited the original line-up of the Queens under a different group name – Izintombi Zomgqashiyo (the girls of mgqashiyo). Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgqashiyo recorded at least four LPs’ worth of material: Amaqhawe Omgqashiyo, Pheletsong Ya Lerato, a ‘Super Maxi’ 12” Zulu single, and the Sotho album Electric Jive shares today, Dithoriso Tsa Morena. By this point, the SABC had developed individual radio services for each language, so it is entirely possible that a Zulu language variant of this album exists on vinyl waiting to be discovered.

Sadly, both the Mathaka and Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgqashiyo ventures ended later in 1984: the Makgona Tsohle Band members were refused a pay rise by the TV production company and ended up being replaced, then Marks Mankwane resigned from the Gallo organisation after twenty years. He took the still-popular '80s Mahotella Queens with him to a new independent label, then over to CCP. In 1985, several tracks from Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgqashiyo's albums were released on the historic Earthworks compilation The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. News of the resulting explosion of interest in South African music (stirred further by the release of Paul Simon's Graceland in 1986) trickled back to the commercially astute West Nkosi, who in 1987 hurriedly reunited most of the Makgona Tsohle Band and convinced two French talent scouts to take the group overseas for the first time. Though Makgona Tsohle, Mahlathini and vocal trio Amaswazi Emvelo proved a hit in France, it was really Mahlathini combined with the original Mahotella Queens that the French scouts desired. West promptly called Marks back to Gallo. Marks abruptly disbanded the then-Mahotella Queens and replaced them with three of the 1960s Queens - Hilda Tloubatla, Nobesuthu Shawe and Mildred Mangxola - all of whom had contributed to the Indestructible tracks so loved by the international audience of afropop fans. A reunion recording was made, Thokozile, and a second French visit spotlighting Mahlathini, the Queens and Makgona Tsohle led to an international touring career that still, even 28 years later, refuses to wane.

...but let's go back to 1984 and Dithoriso Tsa Morena. The overriding and most enjoyable characteristic of African gospel music is the suitably devotional approach to the vocal patterns. The listener does not have to be Christian or even religious at all to appreciate the restrained, resilient and passionate harmonies. Most of the songs on Dithoriso Tsa Morena are collective performances ‘church-style’ with some brief solos from Hilda Tloubatla (tracks 1, 5, 7-12) as well as Nobesuthu Shawe (tracks 3, 5) and Mahlathini (roars to be found everywhere!). Standout tracks that spotlight some beautifully supreme and often emotive harmonies include “Ntate Ba Tshwarele”, “Ruri Le Nkhapile”, “Joko Ya Hao”, “Morena Ke Ya Ho Kopa” and “Sedi La Ka” (the latter track can also be found in the KMQ album shared last week) – but in all honestly, every single track is worthy of multiple listens. Hit the download link for a wonderful dose of pure gospel jive – amen! ☺

produced by Marks Mankwane
engineered by Sam Wingate and Keith Forsyth
Gumba Gumba BL 478
Sotho Religious


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