Monday 1 February 2016

Traditional mbaqanga from Mahlathini and his brother - uMahlathini nabo uLungile (1984)

Today, a return to mbaqanga and to Simon 'Mahlathini' Nkabinde. This LP, recorded in collaboration with his brother Zephaniah Lungile Nkabinde and a team of session greats, is an easygoing and eclectic blend between mbaqanga and Zulu-traditional (better known now as maskandi).

Mahlathini made his return to Gallo and Mavuthela in late 1982 after a decade recording for rival record companies. The main reason for his surprise departure from the Mahotella Queens lineup in 1972 was failed promises from producer and manager Rupert Bopape, who refused to pay the members their wages after a long tour. Mahlathini was able to trade on his hugely famous persona post-Mavuthela and made a number of hits for Satbel Record Company, but musical tastes started to change and producers continued to swindle. Mahlathini went to CCP but by the early 1980s had only misses instead of hits. With Bopape now in retirement, the feud was unlikely to be reignited and Mahlathini started to pick up the pieces back at Mavuthela, the home of some of the finest musical support in the country complete with state-of-the-art production standards.

Mahlathini's first new Mavuthela recordings were compiled onto the LP Uhambo Lwami (Motella BL 396), released in 1983. In these he was mostly accompanied by the bands who had supported him through his recent fallow period, including the Mahlathini Girls and the Mahlathini Guitar Band, with producer Lucky Monama. But the album - enjoyable as it was - made little impact on the local music scene. The Makgona Tsohle Band had recently reunited to become the first true stars of African television and had already started recording two reunion albums, released with the same title as their TV show Mathaka. Guitarist Marks Mankwane decided to reunite the original triumvirate of the Mahotella Queens, Mahlathini and Makgona Tsohle. As the Mahotella Queens lineup of the time - of which Mankwane was the producer - featured no original members but was still fairly popular, Mankwane reunited some of the original Queens under a new name. The reunited act, Mahlathini nezintombi zoMgqashiyo, recorded a handful of LPs under Mankwane's production. Sales weren't extraordinary but still substantial, and it showed that with the right producer and musical support, Mahlathini could still fire on all cylinders.

In the middle of recording two of these reunion LPs, Mahlathini found time to make yet another LP produced by Lucky Monama, this time a left-field release featuring the voice of his brother Zeph. This marked the first time in nearly twenty years the duo had recorded together - the last time was as part of Abafana Bezi Modern, a shortlived male vocal jive group put together by Bopape in 1966 (an attempt to recreate the magic of the hugely successful Black Mambazo, the late 1950s-early 1960s pennywhistle-vocal jive group that had featured both Nkabinde brothers).

It's no surprise the LP carries a more traditional feel than the fervent pop-feel of the usual Mahlathini/Mahotella Queens mbaqanga - Lucky Monama was Mavuthela's producer in charge of traditional music at the time and he recorded a large number of groups with obscure, intriguing sounds. On this LP the band includes George Mangxola on lead guitar, Christian Nombewu on rhythm guitar, Zeph Khoza on drums and Noise Khanyile on violin, plus Makgona Tsohle regulars Monama on percussion and Joseph Makwela on bass guitar. The vocals are handled by Mahlathini, Zeph, Selby Mmutung (alias 'Bra Sello') and Richard Chonco.

(The title of the LP should be correctly rendered as one sentence - uMahlathini nabo uLungile - but thanks to a production screw-up, 'Umahlathini Nabo' is the 'artist' and 'Ulungile' the LP title.)

Some of the standout tracks here include "Bumnandi" with the repetitive, almost menacing groans; the laidback "Labhonga Ibhubesi" with those classic George Mangxola lead guitar licks; the unashamedly clean, crystal clear traditional vibes of "Sakhala Isiginci" and "Umcusi Nomacingwane"; plus the random bendy synth effects alongside Makwela's trademark bass phrases in "Lishonile Ilanga". Another great tune, "Qhude Manikiniki", was included in the influential 1985 compilation The Indestructible Beat of Soweto.


produced by Lucky Monama
engineered by Keith Forsyth
Motella BL 474
Zulu Vocal



  1. I am not sure how you find these gems, but I cannot tell you how much I appreciate it that you are making this music available. I really like Mahlathini and am fortunate enough to have seen him with the Mahotella Queens and the Makgona Tsohle band numerous times and also the Queens since Mahlathini's death. I never knew of many of the things you have made available and the nice sound, as well as the explanatory notes, are really appreciated. keep up the good work! Many thanks, Allen Hoppes, Madrid

    1. Greetings Allen. From Cape Town, South Africa.

    2. Thank you a million for your tireless efforts

  2. Please share the photo from the back cover, which shows his personality more than those two undertakers on the front!

  3. Thanks for all your kind comments - glad you're enjoying the music! :)


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