1001 South African Songs You Must Hear Before You Go Deaf

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Umkhovu – Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

It does sound a bit like Mahlathini is singing ‘Oom Jan in the house’ at the start of ‘Umkhovu, but he’s not. Don’t ask me what he is singing, or which of the 1001 Official South African Languages you must speak before you go deaf (could be Xhosa due to some clicks) he is singing in. What I can tell you is that there is some really funky township guitar going on in this song that bounces around joyfully over a thudding bass. Mahlathini’s trademark vocals groan away over this toe tapping instrumentation and The Mahotella Queens provide a lovely harmonised juxtaposition to the deep growl of Mahlathini.

It is not surprising that this song appeared on the compilation CD ‘Next Stop Soweto’ as it is almost stereotypically representative of the sound of the townships of South Africa. That may sound a little condescending as there is far more to the music that eminates from Soweto, Mamelodi, Khayelitsha et al, but this sort of sound, particularly in the 80’s became synonymous with the townships and ‘Umkhovu’ has all the ingredients of that style – the guitar, bass and vocal harmonies mentioned above. However, Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens have been acknowledged as masters of their craft and here, they do it with toe tapping aplomb that would have even Oom Jan nodding along appreciatively (even if only in the privacy of his house).

Where to find it:
King Of The Groaners – Mahlathini (1993), Earthworks, CDEWV29
Next Stop Soweto – Various (2010), Strut Record


Kazet – Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

Kazet – Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens (Is that a C60 or C90 Kazet?)

[Note: Kazet is sometimes listed as Gazette]

Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens

Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens (left to right: Hilda Tloubatla, Simon Mahlathini Nkabinde, Nobesuthu Mbadu, Mildred Mangxola).

Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde was the deep growling voice behind the success of Mahlathini and the Mahotalla Queens. In his early life, so the story goes, his parents were worried about how deep his voice was and took him to the local sangoma (witch doctor) to see if there was anything wrong. The sangoma concluded that he was only growing up.

Along with the beautiful harmonies of the Mahotella queens, Mahlathini forged a furrow in the field of mbaqanga music (a style early Juluka followed and which, in part, inspired Paul Simon’s Graceland). The group recorded the single ‘Yebo’ with the British group The Art Of Noise, but it was with ‘Kazet’ that they had a hit in France.

The song follows the cyclical rhythms associated with mbaqanga although it doesn’t really show off how deep Mahlathini’s voice could go. You need to listen to some tracks like ‘Thokozile’, ‘Umthakathi’ and ‘Yebo’ to hear that, but ‘Kazet’ is a catchy tune which was an important one in bringing an important exponent of mbanqanga to the world’s ears.

Where to find it:

Best Of Mahlathini & The Mahotella Queens (MOYO, CDHUL 40274)

Sound Offerings From South Africa (Gallo, CDREDD 623)

The Essential South African Trip (African Cream)


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