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