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Interview: Mahotella Queens - Interview: Mahotella Queens

2006-03-29 11:02

Jean Barker MWEB: You started with the Mahotella Queens in 1964? How did it happen?

We got together at Gallo. We all came from different parts of South Africa. But fortunately enough when we met, though we didn't know one another, we were all talented. Each one of us went to Gallo thinking "My God, I would like to sing, I would like to hear myself recording." And we were there at the right time. A producer by the name of Rupert Bopape - he came from EMI, and had formed the Dark City Sisters some time before when I was still at school - he moved to Gallo with Mahlathini and he needed the ladies to back him up. And we all started there.

MWEB: Mbaqanga - am I saying it right? Can you explain for people who might not know so much about it?

Mbaqanga (hard palate click on the q) is a Zulu word. It's a mixture of dried beans mixed together with mielie miel. Our grannies, they cooked this in a big pot, and they called this Mbaqanga. It's so tight, it's together, you can see the dried beans mixed with mielie meal but when they are cooked it's a different meal. The guy who worked for Radio Zulu then, K.E. Masinga, heard this group, and gave this group the name Mbaqanga. He said "My God, you know you guys, your music reminds me of the olden days when we were in the rural areas, and we had our music our Zulu music and we called it "Bokashi" (a fermented bran) or "Mbaqanga". "

MWEB: What do you think of the Kwaito sound? Do you like any Kwaito bands much?

Hilda: Kwaito is for the young kids. They enjoy it. Well - there's some beautiful music. Especially for the young kids. After our music there's been a lot of different music coming up. But Kwaito went in strongly. Kwaito... it's ok. Definitely nothing wrong with Kwaito.

MWEB: If only everybody's grandmother was so cool about their music. So, you guys have many fans in France. What was it like to first play overseas?

God! It was unbelievable. When they told us, "You guys, you're going to Paris to perform in a music festival in Paris we were like... My God! Something's happening!" We were excited and also excited because at last we were going to get into a flight and sleep over on the plane. We were dreaming like "my God, and the hotels" and we would be performing for a mixed audience of both black and white... Remember, that time we still had Apartheid, so wondered what's going to happen. When we got there, the reception, the welcome we got. Oh my God being received by white people. It was really the first time. And when we went on stage the following day we couldn't believe it that we were singing for mostly whites. We were like... we are singing Zulu, and these guys are French guys, and how are they going to understand what we are saying? Only to find that when we started singing and when Mahlathini started singing my God it was unbelievable. They were so mad, so excited, so crazy. We'd never had this before. We were booked again immediately for a months time.

Then we went back to perform and were invited to the first ever Mandela concert in London. There we were watched by 60 countries on TV. Promoters started calling and calling to say "My God, we saw this group, they're doing something different, we love it."

MWEB: What's the weirdest question asked / strangest thing anyone's ever said to you about South Africa?

They were surprised that such a good group were from South Africa. "How are you doing with all the Apartheid?" "Where do you live?" Even when we were doing workshops for the children, the children would ask: "You guys, where do you sleep? Because we are told you sleep on trees." (Bursts out laughing.) And they were surprised "You guys you can speak English so well, where did you learn that?" and we'd say "No, we've got schools, we attend schools, never mind Apartheid, but we've got schools."

MWEB: What's your favourite place in the world - and why?

Everywhere is Ok. (Laughs) Except home is always the best. Ya, home is home.

MWEB: How do you feel about the term "World Music"? Why is folk music from Africa called World Music, when folk music from America is called "Folk?"

World music is exciting. People always say to us, you're doing your own kind of music. You're not imitating Michael Jackson or Commodores. You can't come to America and give us our music. We've got our own Michael Jackson. They liked Miriam Makeba. I have no doubt they prefer you doing your own thing. With us also, it's the same. Michael Jackson cannot come from America to perform Mbaqanga! He can't do it better than us. So, it's like that.

MWEB: And after the Jazz Fest? Are you collaborating with anyone new, travelling anywhere strange, soon?

Our next trip is Europe, I should think. And our album, Bazobuya, is out. Bazobuya means "They will come back". The question is, WHO will come back. The guys we were playing with ... all passed away. The three queens are Christians. We believe in God. We mean that they will be coming back on the day of the resurrection.

MWEB: Do you have plans for a new album?

Very soon.

MWEB: Any idea on Title of the new album?

Not yet. Until we mix up the whole thing, until we get everything tight, we won't know what it's going to be about.

- Jean Barker

The Mahotella Queens started out as backing singers and dancers for Simon "Mahlathini" Nkabinde. After Mahlathini's death, the queens have continued to perform all over the world. They've recently released a new album and will appear at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival on the 27th of March. We spoke to Hilda Tloubatla, who has a special way of being both joyous and wise. And though she's famous, you could imagine her turning to you on a bus to say "My God" as she often does. "It's hot t
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