Tag Archives: South Africa

Artist Profiles: Madala Kunene

Madala Kunene

Madala Kunene was born in 1951 in Cato Manor, moving to the township of Kwa-Mashu, near Durban after his family were evicted by the Apartheid government. Despite being born into a family of eminent and fervent academics he refused to spend so much as a day at school- even if it meant taking regular beatings because of it. This signaled Madala’s single-minded and uniquely unconventional nature.

He started busking on Durban’s beachfront at the age of 7, making his first guitar out of a cooking oil tin and fish gut for the strings! He soon became a popular performer in the townships. “I started music when I was a boy at Umkhubane (Cato Manor) at Jippercoat Station. We were called ‘Amanikabheni,’ a name given to us because we would perform in open spaces and then be given pennies by the thrilled crowds“.

As a player for the African Wanderers FC, the teenage Madala was torn between his love of football and music, playing guitar at home after matches. In 1963, he bought his first real guitar and began to imitate Western music such as the Beatles. But Madala soon tired of imitating others and feeling dissatisfied and restless, decided to start playing his own music giving voice to the creativity that was welling up within him.

It was friends such as the great Sandile Shange, who encouraged him to take his guitar playing much more seriously. He followed their wise advice and in the early seventies started to perform as a professional artist in the Durban townships, playing in variety of styles.In very little time he had become the hottest guitar player and was discovered by Sipho Gumede.

Madala went to work in Johannesburg, where he considered himself privileged to share the stage with such luminaries as Doc Mthalane and his band, Songamasu, Shor Philips, Mankunku Hgozi and Busi Mhlongo. However, in the mid – 1970’s, violence erupted in rural areas. This led to Madala returning home to protect his family after their house was burned down. Deprived of the chance to tour internationally, Madala continued to develop his own musical style while playing low-key gigs in the townships during the mid-eighties.

Encouraged by his friend Duze Mahlobo, he revived the ‘Madalaine’ style of guitar playing, combining blues &soul with African folk, and developing the trance – like quality of his Zulu folk singing. A guitarist on great albums by the likes of Sipho Gumede and Mandla Masuka, Madala’s career has been, in his own words, “both exciting and rough”, since he went solo in 1988. One such example Madala remembers: “I was rehearsing at a friend’s house and the police came in and said we were making noise. They took all our instruments and smashed them. It took me a long time to find the money to get another guitar.

Despite the hardship he persevered and in 1990 teamed up with the dance troupe, Woza Afrika, where he wrote, sang and played guitar. In 1993 B+W (later M.E.L.T. 2000) gave him his recording break: he was on Freedom Countdown produced by Sipho Gumede.

In 1994 Madala took part in the Outernational Meltdown jams with Airto Moreira that culminated in his part of the Healer’s Brew (BW077). His traditionally deep-rooted guitar style is captured on the first in the bootleg net series, -King of the Zulu, Live Vol. 1. (BNETCD001).

Of contemporary music Madala says, “I like the fact that I am doing African music, even though here at home promoters are not that interested in traditional music. They are only into commercial music.”

Despite the pressures to copy Western music Madala refused to give in to commercial whim, “I was tired of trying to sound like other people. I wanted to be myself, to play the kind of music that came from within me.” So he draws his influences from Zulu folklore and culture. With wit and clarity he relates the traditional Zulu folk tales we would otherwise forget.

A proud Zulu and advocate of traditional Zulu music and folklore-Madala’s first solo album for M.E.L.T. 2000 was Kon’ko Man (BW058) meaning ‘the Strong Man’. Made in 1995 and produced by Pops Mohammed and Airto Moreira, this album features many of his old friends, including Londoner Zena Edwards, Sipho Gumede, Mabi Thobejane, Busi Mhlongo, Mandla Mgabhi and Mandla Masuk, Jose Neto and Flora Purim, to mention but a few.

Following this debut solo album, he joined forces with Swiss guitarist Max Lasser for the album ‘Madamax’. There was an incredible creative affinity between the two and through the development of this project they made a profound musical connection between Africa and Europe. As Madala says, “I first met Max at a studio in Johannesburg in 1995, because of a session that Robert had organized. We sat together the whole night. I just took the guitar and played and everybody sang along.” It was not yet obvious something big was going to come of it, “I was not expecting that this music would be released on CD. We were just playing together. We finished the session, and since that day we have been great friends, as if we’d known each other 20 years. I liked his heart – he was a fine man.”

After their initial sessions in South Africa, Max invited Madala to Switzerland to continue arranging the music, and to write some more songs. This collaboration was such a buzz that Madala and Max decided to take their unique sound on tour, a resounding success that also highlighted the unique vocal talents of Lungiswa Plaatjies. This tour has been a resounding success throughout Europe both in 1999 and 2000. Performing to audiences around the world, and sharing the stage with the likes of the inimitable Busi Mhlongo, Madala’s repertoire includes playing for Nelson Mandela at the show held in honour of his release. When they met again at another benefit show in Durban Mandela smiled and said, “It’s you again. I wish you could play for me everywhere I go”.

Madala Kunene performs to audiences around the world and often shares the stage with great names such as the inimitable -Busi Mhlongo. This repertoire includes playing for Nelson Mandela at the show held in honor of his release.

Madala has developed a completely original style of playing guitar based on ancient divination music and most of his inspiration comes to him in dreams. He explains the influence his poetic dreams have on his song writing relating the inspiration for ‘Abangoma’ on ‘K’onko Man’. “You know when you get a fright in your sleep and you body shakes and then you suddenly wake up? That’s what happened with Abangoma. I must have been inspired by my ancestors because I just got up, picked up my guitar and wrote the entire song”. Madala is profoundly connected to his ancestry, “It was my ancestors that didn’t want me to go to school. They gave me a talent so that instead of school, I played my music”.

It is somewhat ironic that Madala is now a teacher himself, sharing his musical skills with children and juvenile offenders in KwaZulu-Natal.Known as the “King of Zulu guitar”, Kunene is renowned for the transcendental and ethereal quality of his songs. Whilst performing he goes into a deep trance, and as he himself says, “When I am playing my brain is not there. Each time I go to a place I’ve never been before.”


Healer’s Brew (B&W Music, 1995)
King Of The Zulu Guitar Live Vol 1 (Bootleg.Net, 1996)
Kon’Ko Man (B&W Music, 1996)
Madamax (Impact Music, 1998)
Uxolo ‎(M.E.L.T. 2000, 2005)
1959 (2017)


Artist Profiles: Mahotella Queens

Mahotella Queens

The Mahotella Queens, Hilda Tloubatla, Mildred Mangxola, and Nobesethu Mbadu, are part of the legend of urban South African music known as mbaquanga. In the early 1960s, they helped the legendary Simon Nkabindé Mahlathini (the “Lion of Soweto”) and the Makgona Tsothle Band create mbaqanga, a fusion of traditional South African tribal music (Zulu, Sotho, Shangaan and Xhosa) with marabi (South African jazz), blues, soul, and gospel.

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens played halls and township dances in South Africa. Their original sound was named the “indestructible beat of Soweto,” and their rhythmic dance music and soaring vocal harmonies embodied the spirit of the oppressed peoples of the townships. The group took a break in the mid-1970’s to raise families, but reunited with Malathini in 1987 for a successful tour of Europe and United States.

Following the tragic death of Mahlathini and the dissolution of the Makagona Tsothle Band in 1999, the Mahotella Queens struck out on their own with a national tour and released a recording entitled Sebai Bai. In 2000, they received the second annual WOMEX (Worldwide Music Expo) Award, presented for outstanding contribution to world music.


Marks Umthakathi (Gumba Gumba, 1972)
Umgqashiyo (Gumba Gumba, 1973)
Thatha Izimpahla Zakho (Igagasi, 1980)
Tsamaya Moratuoa (Gumba Gumba, 1980)
Mosese O Mosweu (Igagasi, 1982)
Ezesimanje (Hit Special, 1982)
Pitša Tše Kgolo (Hit Special, 1982)
Tse Hlwahlwa Tsa (Gumba Gumba, 1983)
Igagasi (IAL, 1983)
Khwatha O Mone (Hit Special, 1984)
Thokozile (Gallo Recording Company, 1987)
Menate Ea Lefatse (Black Music, 1987)
Melodi Yalla (Gallo Record Company, 1988)
Marriage Is A Problem (Shanachie, 1991)
Women Of The World (Gallo Record Company, 1993)
Sebai Bai (Indigo, 2000)
Bazobuya (Gallo Record Company, 2004)
Kazet (Marabi Productions, 2005)
Reign & Shine (Wrasse Records, 2006)
Siyadumisa – Songs of Praise (Bula Music, 2007)


Artist Profiles: Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba was one of the world’s musical treasures, having gained international renown as a recording and performing artist and an important figure in the human rights movements in Africa and beyond. She was forced to spend most of her career away from her homeland after an impassioned anti-apartheid speech before the United Nations in 1963.

Miriam Makeba, whose real name was Zenzile Makeba, was born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932. She started to sing at a young age, in her church and school choirs, and during other occasions. Her older brother had a jazz collection that she really enjoyed, specially singers like Billie Holliday, Sarah Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald.

She never had the intention of becoming a professional singer until one of her cousins asked her to join his band, the Cuban Brothers.

Makeba became one of the biggest stars of South African jazz in the 1950s. Swing, rhythm and blues and big band jazz had taken South Africa by storm, resulting in a powerful jazz movement that served as the foundation for much of South Africa’s popular music. In their attempts to interpret the music they heard on records from America, township musicians incorporated their own influences, resulting in a bouncy, original style that came to be known as Marabi.

Makeba first gained notice in 1954 as a featured vocalist for the Manhattan Brothers, one of the most popular male vocal quartets. She soon left to form the Skylarks, an all-female vocal group and toured South Africa as part of an influential variety show. Her big break came in 1959, when she took on the female lead of the hit musical King Kong. Just as she was becoming a household name at home, Makeba left for the US, performing with Harry Belafonte and others. Her song “Pata Pata” was an international success in 1967, becoming the first African song to reach the United State’s Top 10 pop charts.

Makeba’s dedication to human rights and political justice earned her great honors and recognition as a humanitarian leader throughout the world. Makeba was allowed to return to South Africa in 1990, and was embraced by Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the anti-apartheid movement for her struggles in exile.

She was honored many times, most notably the Grammy Award for best folk recording in 1965, and the Dag Hammarskjold Peace Prize in 1986.

Her records include the following: ‘An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba’, RCA, 1965; ‘Pata Pata’ (single), 1967; ‘Sangoma’, Warner Bros., 1988; ‘Welela’, Polydor, 1989; ‘Eyes on Tomorrow’, Polydor, 1991; ‘Africa’, reissued, Novus, 1991; ‘Miriam Makeba Sings’, RCA; ‘The World of Miriam Makeba’, RCA; ‘Back of the Moon’, Kapp; ‘Miriam Makeba in Concert’, Reprise.

Her published works include ‘The World of African Song’, edited by Jonas Gwangwa and E. John Miller, Jr., Time Books, 1971 and ‘Makeba: My Story’ an autobiography (with James Hall), published by New American Library in 1987.

In 2004, at the South African Music Awards 10, her album Reflections won two awards: Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best Adult Contemporary Album.

Miriam Makeba died November 9, 2008 in Castel Volturno, Italy.


Miriam Makeba (RCA, 1960)
The Many Voices of Miriam Makeba (1962)
The World of Miriam Makeba (RCA, 1963)
The Voice of Africa (RCA, 1964)
Makeba Sings! (RCA, 1965)
An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba (RCA, 1965)
The Magic of Makeba (RCA, 1965)
The Magnificent Miriam Makeba (Mercury, 1966)
All About Miriam (Mercury, 1966)
Pata Pata (Reprise, 1967)
Makeba! (Reprise, 1968)
Keep Me in Mind (Reprise, 1970)
A Promise (RCA, 1974)
Miriam Makeba & Bongi (1975)
Country Girl (Sonodisc, 1978)
Comme une symphonie d’amour (Sonodisc, 1979)
Sangoma (Warner Bros. Records, 1988)
Welela (Gallo Record Company, 1989)
Eyes on Tomorrow (Gallo Record Company, 1991)
Sing Me a Song (1993)
Homeland (Putumayo, 2000)
Reflections (Gallo Record Company, 2004)
Forever (Gallo Record Company, 2006), compilation


Her Essential Recordings: The Empress of African Song, 2 CDs (Manteca, 2006)
The Sound Of Africa, 3 CDs (Not Now Music, 2013)
Indispensable 1955-1962, 3 CDs (Fremeaux & Associes, 2015)
Original Album Classics, 5 CDs (Sony Music Canada, 2016)


Artist Profiles: Mzwakhe Mbuli

One of the most popular artists in South Africa, Mzwakhe Mbuli is known as the People’s Poet; the voice of the voiceless, the poor and the dispossessed on the edges of society. His concerns are human rights, fighting corruption, drugs and AIDS, building a better future and reminding his audience about African history and tradition.


Change is Pain (Shifty Records/Rounder Records, 1986)
Unbroken Spirit (Shifty Records, 1988)
Resistance is Defence (Stern’s Earthworks, 1992)
Afrika (CCP/EMI South Africa, 1993)
Izigi (CCP/EMI South Africa, 1994)
KwaZulu-Natal (CCP/EMI South Africa, 1996)
Umzwakhe Ubongu Ujehovah (CCP/EMI South Africa, 1997)
Mbulism (CCP/EMI South Africa, 2004)


Artist Profiles: Shikisha

Shikisha – Photo by Michael G. Spafford

Shikisha included four South African women who performed traditional Zulu, Sotho, Xhosa and Shangaan dances, chants and drumming plus exhilarating street dances, and original songs set to township music.

Shikisha’s performances started with traditional drumming and chants, reflecting ceremonies and day-to-day events of tribal life, including birth, circumcision, war and marriage.

‘The Miners’ Gumboot Dance’ is a hybrid dance, developed from the different tribal traditions among the gold miners of Johannesburg, South Africa. This energetic and amusing dance form, crosses all language barriers within the miners. These miners are confined in the compounds without any entertainment provided, so they gather every Sunday to release frustration by entertaining themselves.

Shikisha from the Zulu word ‘Belt it out, included:

Julia Mathunjwa, born in Durban-Sout Africa. When she was in School, she trained as a model. In 1973 she joined a production Umabatha (the Zulu version of Macbeth). Later she toured in Europe with the ” Black and White is a Beautiful Show “. 1974 she joined Ipi Tombi and when the show came to London she decided to make it her home. She continued to work in West End theaters until she decided to found Shikisha in 1981.

Thokozile Nogabe and Sindisiwe Shange, two South African artists, joined Shikisha in 1991 and were trained by Julia Mathunjwa. They both performed in ‘Sarafina‘ a South African musical that won an award in Broadway in 1990.


Belt It Out! (John Francis Production, 1996)
Jive Shikisha! (Westside, 1998)


Artist Profiles: Shiyani Ngcobo

Shiyani Ngcobo

Shiyani Ngcobo was born in 1953 in Umzinto, on KwaZulu-Natal’s south coast. Shiyani Ngcobo was a maskanda (Zulu folk music) musician for more than thirty years.

The winner of numerous maskanda awards, his use of a mixture of the rhythmic patterns associated with its different styles earned him a reputation in South Africa as a maskanda maestro.

Shiyani Ngcobo died February 18, 2011 in Durban, South Africa.


Introducing Shiyani Ngcobo (World Music Network, 2004)


Artist Profiles: Sipho MChunu

Sipho MChunu with Johnny Clegg

Sipho MChunu Sipho co-founded Juluka with Johnny Clegg in the mid-1970’s. Originally a migrant laborer with a sound traditional music and dance background, Sipho taught Clegg much of the Zulu guitar he plays today. Sipho wrote and co-wrote many of the Juluka hits in the 1970s and 1980s.

Sipho is well-known in South Africa and especially amongst the Zulu-speakers in Natal. He is a shining example of what can be achieved by someone coming from the rural community and is something of a standard-bearer for his People.

When Juluka split in the mid-1980s, Sipho went back to his farm in Kwa-Zulu and while taking care of the affairs of his house and village, recorded and toured with his own band, Amabhubesi (“The Lions”).

When his schedule allows, he gives lectures on traditional Zulu guitar styles at the University Of Natal and adjudicates in competitions for up-and-coming talent in the area. Sipho reformed Juluka with Johnny in 1996 and co-wrote and recorded Ya Vuka Inkunzi (Crocodile Love).

Sipho lives on his farm in Natal with his wives and children and commutes to Johannesburg for rehearsals, recordings, video shoots and other activities.


Universal Men (CBS, 1979)
African Litany (MINC, 1981)
Ubuhle Bemvelo (MINC, 1982)
Scatterlings (MINC, 1982)
Work For All (MINC, 1983)
Stand Your Ground (Warner Bros. Records, 1984)
Musa Ukungilandela (MINC, 1984)
Juluka Live (The Good Hope Concerts) MINC, 1986)
Yithi Esavimba (Totem Records, 1989)
Crocodile Love (CNR Music, 1997)


Artist Profiles: Soweto Gospel Choir

Soweto Gospel Choir

Soweto Gospel Choir is a vocal ensemble, performing in 8 different languages. its performances are an inspirational program of tribal, traditional and popular African gospel.

Under the direction of the notable choirmaster David Mulovhedzi, the Soweto Gospel Choir, draws on the best talent from the many churches and communities in and around Soweto. Since the Choir began touring internationally in early 2003 they have performed to nightly standing ovations, sold-out houses and rave reviews.

As well as traditional African Gospel, the ensemble also performs “Amazing Grace,” “Paradise Road,” and music by Otis Redding and the soul-styled reggae of Jimmy Cliff. The ensemble also features traditional dancers and drummers and a dynamic four-piece band.

In October 2004 the Choir completed a highly successful five week tour of the United Kingdom. In August they returned to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where they performed their new show Blessed to packed houses and rave reviews. A highlight for the Choir was the opportunity to onstage with Anastasia, Queen, Peter Gabriel, Cat Stevens and Annie Lennox, to an audience of 26,000 at Nelson Mandela’s Aids Fundraising concert in Cape Town in December 2003, which was broadcast around the globe on MTV.

The Soweto Gospel Choir commenced its first tour to the United States in January 2005 to great acclaim. This followed a two month tour of Germany and Spain.


Voices from Heaven (Shanachie Records, 2005)
Blessed (Shanachie Records, 2006)
African Spirit (Shanachie Records, 2007)
Grace (Shanachie Records, 2010)
Freedom (Shanachie Records, 2018)


Artist Profiles: Tananas


Tananas was a trio of world class musicians from South Africa and Mozambique who got together in 1988. Their improvisational and rhythmic sensibility established them as one of the most original and compelling groups that emerged in South Africa in the late 20th century.

The individual band members were Gito Baloi (bass/vocals), Ian Herman (drums) & Steve Newman (guitar). Baloi, a Mozambican, had been playing with Pongola, and Herman had been drumming with Cape rockers The Genuines.

The first Tananas album was released in 1988. The group recorded two albums for a major label and ran into problems following the release of 1992’s Time, with artistic differences between the three members cited as the main reason for the decision to put the band on hiatus. Newman began working with guitarist Tony Cox, while Baloi launched a critically applauded solo career.

Herman and Newman relaunched Tananas in 1994, but with Baloi unwilling to rejoin his former colleagues the duo was forced to use additional musicians on the commercially driven Orchestra Mundo and Unamunacua. Baloi recorded two solo albums during that period.

Tananas used to be essentially an instrumental band allied to jazz but unmistakably African at heart. In the group’s latter stage the recordings have included more vocals by Mozambican singer and bass player, Gito Baloi, who sang in Shangaan, Tsonga and Portuguese.

Following another long separation, the original line-up of Tananas reunited in the late 90s, signed a new recording contract with Sony, and recorded Seed.

Long regarded as South Africa’s most gifted drummer, Herman took up an offer of work in the United States. In New York he worked with luminaries such as Paul Simon and George Duke, later settling in San Francisco. He returned only briefly, to record with Peter Sklair and Paul Hanmer’s band, Unofficial Language. In 2000 Herman got a call from from Newman and longtime Tananas manager Kerry Friedman, imploring him to come home and make a new start with Tananas. The trio joined the WOMAD tour and finally began to receive some international recognition.

Unfortunately, the annual reunions won’t take place anymore. Gito Baloi was shot dead while returning home from a performance in Johannesburg in April 2004, ending any chance of a band reunion.


Tananas (Celluloid, 1988)
Spiral (Sonet, 1990)
Time (Gallo Music, 1992)
Orchestra Mundo (Gallo Record Company, 1994)
Seed (Epic, 1999)
Alive In Jo’burg (Epic, 2001)


Artist Profiles: Thandiswa


Ever since she burst into the public’s consciousness as the lead vocalist and songwriter of award-winning South African kwaito group Bongo Maffin, Thandiswa has been an indelible part of the South African cultural landscape.

Born in Mofolo and raised in Soweto, she began her career singing in a church choir, and made her professional debut at the Market Theatre in 1993 in a production called SA Love. She was awarded a scholarship by both Nedbank and the Permanent Bank, which enabled her to study opera at the Technikon Pretoria. Since then she has amassed an impressive biography, having performed and sung with the cream of South African musicians.

Her first attempt to get noticed occurred at the Shell “Road to Fame” talent show. She did, catch the eye of musician and producer Don Laka, who arranged to include her in a project he was working on, Bongo Maffin’s second album.

The band became known as one of the founding members of kwaito, and went on to release four more albums, becoming widely recognized as the voice of South Africa’s conscious youth. Their compositions consistently combined dance floor favorites with thought-provoking lyrics. They were invited to perform all over the world, and shared the stage with musical icons Stevie Wonder, the Marley clan, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Chaka Khan, Sean Paul, Steel Pulse and Skunk Anansie, amongst others. Their contribution to the South African musical cannon earned Bongo Maffin numerous awards, the Kora All Africa Music Awards, and the Metro FM Music Awards.

After almost eight years with Bongo Maffin, Thandiswa finally resolved to begin work on a solo project. The album, titled Zabalaza, including well known South African singers and producers: Tshepo Tshola, Xhosa traditional vocalist Madosini, Mandla Spikiri, D-Rex and Bluey Maunick. Thandiswa became a central part of the entire recording project, from the production to imaging of the album cover, Thandiswa was involved in each phase of the process.

As additional preparation for the recording process, Thandiswa also embarked on a pilgrimage to her mother’s home village in the Transkei, moving on to spend a fortnight in Mkhankato, Madosini’s village in the heart of rural Transkei. Here she was exposed to the original sounds of Xhosa traditional melodies, and was introduced to the Uhadi, a traditional Xhosa one-string harp.

Zabalaza was folowed by Ibokwe, Dance of the Forgotten Free, and Belede.


Thandiswa Mazwai holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in International Relations and English from Wits. She is the first national pop singer to wear Xhosa make-up and has taken a leading role in the fight against AIDS in South Africa.


Zabalaza (Gallo Records, 2004)
Ibokwe (Gallo Records, 2009)
Dance of the Forgotten Free (Gallo Records, 2010)
Belede (Universal Music, 2016)

Bongo Maffin

New Construction (Gallo Records, 2005)
Bongolution (Sony BMG, 2001)
The Concerto (Sony BMG, 1998)
Final Entry (EMI, 1997)
Leaders of D’Gong (EMI, 1996)