The Mahotella Queens

The Mahotella Queens

The Best Of – The Township Idols (Wrasse Records Wrasss. 098)

One of the things I most associate with the Queens, apart from their own impassioned vocals, is the coarse growl of Simon Nkabinde Mahlathini. So when I received this I was delighted to find an old favourite of mine, Jive Motella, included. It was lovely to hear the Lion of Soweto juxtaposed with the glorious three-part harmonies of the women.
He is featured on several tracks here in this celebration of their history and it provokes both sad and joyful feelings. Sad, because there will be no more such unions. But listening to Zibuyile Nonyaka or Thina Siyakhanyisa is as exciting an experience as you’re likely to find in the wide field of African music.

But before I forget, this is a review of the fabulous Queens. It spans the range of their albums, both with and without Mahlathini, and mixes the rhythms of South African tribal music with jazz and gospel influences. They call it mbaqanga, from the Zulu word for cooking pot. There is even a reggae influence on I’m In Love With A Rastaman which is full of swagger and bounce. Truly up-lifting. Equally buoyant is Kumnyama Endlini from their latest cd.

There are plenty of examples of the Queens’ close harmonies but one of the most memorable is the closing track Dilika Town Hall, a traditional song that features their unaccompanied voices. You can feel the purity and power that makes any other instrument redundant.

A couple of tracks don’t do them justice, like Women Of The World, which sounds diluted, bland even. But most of the album is great to hear again. They still sound as fresh as ever, keeping alive the sound and spirit of ‘the indestructible beat of Soweto’.

Author: Paul Donnelly