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About Mahlathini

Simon Nkabinde Mahlathini (nicknamed "the Lion of Soweto") came to international attention via the 1985 sampler The Indestructible Beat of Soweto. He began to tour internationally with female singers the Mahotella Queens, although he has been playing and singing his brand of mbaqanga (Zulu pop music, heavily influenced by traditional singing styles) since the early '60s. Mahlathini started singing on street corners, graduated to men's choral music, and went on to form his own smaller group in the mid-'60s. When he "went electric" in the mid-'70s, his new sound caused a sensation, and much controversy. With the Mahotella Queens supplying their dynamic backing vocals and fancy dance routines (think of a South African version of the Supremes) and Mahlathini's primal groaning filling the air, you don't have to understand the language to get the message, although the group has occasionally recorded in English. Another part of Mahlathini's success is the backing supplied by West Nkosi and the Makgona Tsohle Band. "Makgona Tsohle means 'Jack-of-all-trades'," Nkosi once said. "Our mbaqanga is a blend of traditional styles with modern instruments, a music anyone can relate to." The group delivered its last live performance in 1997; the following year Nkosi was killed in an auto accident, and on June 29, 1999, Mahlathini passed on following a long illness. ~ J. Poet & William Ruhlmann


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