Tuesday 4 August 2015

S'modern Girls - Unina Kavusi (1980)

We share another album of crisp and clean 1980s female mbaqanga today, this time from Izintombi Zesimanjemanje under their alternate pseudonym, S’modern Girls. 1980’s Unina Kavusi features 10 strong Zulu vocal numbers with powerful harmonies, sunny guitar, pounding bass and glorious organ.

Izintombi Zesimanjemanje (usually corrupted as ‘Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje’ on their record sleeves thanks to careless designers) established itself as a serious competitor in the local music scene early on and had been a relatively dominant force for just over five years when the original line-up, fronted by Sannah Mnguni, quit and went over to form Amagugu Esimanjemanje at EMI. Isibaya Esikhulu producer Hamilton Nzimande quickly reformed the group. His partner Jane Dlamini – the only Zesimanjemanje vocalist who stayed on at Isibaya – was soon joined by Lindiwe Mthembu (from Izintombi Zephepha), Nobesuthu Shawe (from the Mahotella Queens) and Ruth Mafuxwana. From 1972 to 1976 the quartet produced some brilliant high-quality vocal jive LPs (although naturally the 45s came first, then the albums), some of which were Nomali (1974), A Man and a Woman (1974), Isitha Sami Nguwe (1976), Bomakoti Bakajeno (1976) and Usithathaphi Isibindi (1976).

In 1977, the Zesimanjemanje maidens were joined by Hilda Tloubatla, who had recently left Gallo-Mavuthela after more than 12 years as the famous lead singer of the Mahotella Queens. It was at this same time that Nzimande began developing the famous Soul Brothers, then virtually unknown but soon to become Isibaya Esikhulu’s (and ultimately one of South Africa’s) biggest selling artists. As the era of girl group mbaqanga began to come to an end, Nzimande reinvigorated Zesimanjemanje’s backup to resemble that of the Soul Brothers, with a horn section, synth, organ, disco beat and just one guitar. The changes were a step into the future but the material remained very strong, notable albums including Ho Buoa Morena (1977), Ujabulisa Abantu (1978), Ha Le Dikela (1979), Umuntu Othulile (1979), Makoti Wakena (1980) and today’s share, Unina Kavusi (1980). In a bid to maintain the group’s popularity, Nzimande arranged for the ladies to record some of their own compositions using the same musical arrangements from the most popular Soul Brothers singles.

Most of the vocals on Unina Kavusi are split pretty evenly between the Zesimanjemanje maidens and a male soul chorus (not actually the Soul Brothers on this LP, although they do sing on Ujabulisa Abantu). The trademark mbaqanga rhythms are definitely imbued with that Soul Brothers magic and the result is happy, sunny and delightful. Every number is brilliant but particular standouts include “Ukuhlakanipha Akukho”, “Utshwala”, “Thathakahle” and “Mawumthanda”.

The female vocalists on this LP are: Jane Dlamini, Julia Mangqu, Lindiwe Mthembu, Nobesuthu Shawe and Hilda Tloubatla.


produced by Hamilton Nzimande
Umjondolo LJD 30
Zulu Vocal


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