Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens (also known as Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgqashiyo – Mahlathini and the Girls of Mgqashiyo) was a South African mbaqanga supergroup composed of:
* The late Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde (1937–1999), a phenomenal singer in the basso-profundo ‘groaning’ style
* The mgqashiyo session group Mahotella Queens (1964–present), known for their fast-paced dancing and multi-part harmonies – originally five members from 1964–1986, now a trio (1986–present)
* The mbaqanga instrumental band Makgona Tsohle Band (1963–1999), led by the late Marks Mankwane and West Nkosi
In 1998, band member West Nkosi was killed in a road accident. Marks Mankwane died not long afterwards, followed by the death of Mahlathini in July 1999, thus ending the group’s existence. Despite this, the Mahotella Queens recruited brand new (younger) musicians in a new group line-up and continue performing and recording to this day, having released successful albums such as Sebai Bai (2001), Bazobuya (2004), Reign & Shine (2005) and Siyadumisa (Songs of Praise) (2007).
Mahlathini, the Queens and the Makgona Tsohle Band had become famous as individual artists, but had frequently recorded together since 1964. It was only in 1986, when the demand for South African music arose through Paul Simon’s Graceland album, that Gallo Record Company (the three artists’ label) paired them together permanently.
Mahlathini was known as the "Lion of Soweto" (his voice was a low, "gravel-like" groan) and was well known throughout South Africa and neighboring countries such as Zimbabwe and Botswana during his career. He began singing in the 1950s, often working in conjunction with top producer Rupert Bopape at EMI South Africa, and often performing with the girl group the Dark City Sisters. When Bopape moved to Gallo Record Company in 1964 to start up the new African subsidiary, Mavuthela Music, he brought Mahlathini with him. The bass vocalist’s career then took off. He was backed by Bopape’s newly-formed Makgona Tsohle Band (soon to become the hardest-working mbaqanga session team in the country, led by the country’s electric guitar pioneer Marks Mankwane as well as saxophone star West Nkosi) and often recorded with Bopape’s newly-formed (and highly-successful) Mahotella Queens.
Mahotella Queens was initially a group of five female vocalists established at the Mavuthela division in 1964 by Bopape, who introduced Hilda Tloubatla to sing the main lead vocals. The Queens began recording hit singles and albums with their backing, the Makgona Tsohle Band, and were often fronted by Mahlathini. In 1971, Mahlathini signed with rival company EMI, and the original Queens all ended up joining rival girl groups. Bopape formed a new Mahotella Queens line-up, who most notably recorded the 1977 album Izibani Zomgqashiyo with Robert "Mbazo" Mkhize (in the place of Mahlathini). In 1983, the original five Queens (Hilda Tloubatla, Nobesuthu Mbadu, Mildred Mangxola, Juliet Mazamisa and Ethel Mngomezulu) reunited with Mahlathini and the Makgona Tsohle Band with the comeback release Amaqhawe Omgqashiyo (Heroes of Mgqashiyo Music). After one more hiatus, three of the Queens (Hilda Tloubatla, Nobesuthu Mbadu and Mildred Mangxola) regrouped full-time in 1986.
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