Wednesday, September 11, 2002

The Swish Guide to South African Music - Part 7
"Kazet" by Mahlatini and the Mahotella Queens (remix) - 1987 [download the mp3]

Born in 1938, Simon Nkabinde grew up in Alexandra, a township outside Johannesburg. As a teenager, he led a traditional choir, performing at weddings and parties. In 1964 he met Hilda Tloubatla, Mildred Mangxola, and Nobesuthu Mbadu - they became known as the Mahotella Queens. He became known as Mahlatini, the "Lion of Soweto".

They are sometimes credited with inventing mbaqanga - a mixture of various types of traditional music (Zulu, Sotho, Shangaan, Xhosa) mixed with Marabi (South African jazz) and R&B, soul and gospel. Mahlathini's bass groaning, with the close harmonies of the Queens, made the band one of the most popular in African music in the '60s and '70s, but the group disbanded in the late '70s.

In 1984, they made a comeback with the worldwide hit "Yebo!", recorded with The Art of Noise. In 1987, together with their producer West Nkosi, they recorded an album in Paris, called 'Paris Soweto'. From the album, this track, "Kazet", was an international hit. The lyrics apparently deal with how the apartheid authority bulldozed township homes, driving away the inhabitants. But you wouldn't know it from the infectious, upbeat, dancey music.

The group appeared at the Nelson Mandela birthday concert in London in 1988 and, in 1991, they performed in front of 500,000 people at New York's Central Park. Mahlatini died in 1999, but the Mahotella Queens still tour, recently winning 'world music artist of the year' at the 2002 Womex Conference in Berlin.

See this excellent article on the development of South African music.

Let me know what you think of these. Buy South African CDs online at

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