The world knows our music, thanks to ...

2011-09-09 08:04

In the midst of Heritage Month, Lesley Mofokeng looks at artists who contributed to taking our music across the world and the legacy their songs left behind.

Solomon Linda – Mbube:

Probably the most popular song to come out of Africa. Linda, who worked at Gallo Records as a packer, wrote and performed the song with his band, The Evening Birds.

It found its way to the US and morphed into the international hit, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which later featured on the Lion King soundtrack.

After a legal battle between Linda’s descendants and Walt Disney over the copyright of the song, the matter was settled in 2006, with the money from the rights to worldwide sales going into a trust.

Manhattan Brothers – Lakutshun’ilanga:
The original South African boy band of doo-wop, jive and swing. The a cappella and harmonies that Joe Mogotsi, Rufus Khoza, Ronnie Sehume and Nathan Mdledle produced earned them international recognition when Lakutshun’ilanga peaked at number 45 on the US Billboard charts back in 1956. It was known as Lovely Lies and it brought forward Miriam Makeba’s great talent.

Miriam Makeba – Pata Pata:

Known as Mama Africa, she was the first South African to win a Grammy and the first African woman to receive the accolade back in 1965. It was for An Evening With Belafonte and Makeba, a recording of South African songs with her mentor Harry Belafonte.

Ever since, Makeba stayed on the music radar and while in exile she championed the cause of the struggle against apartheid.

She addressed the UN in 1963 on the atrocities of apartheid in her home country. She continued to be nominated for awards until 2001.

Songs like The Click Song, Hapo Zamani, Ndodemnyama Verwoerd and Aluta Continua are quintessentially Makeba.


Hugh Masekela – Grazin’ in the Grass:
The trumpet maestro endeared himself to the Americans with this surprise composition that sold four million copies in 1968 and earned him a Grammy nomination.

He played in prestigious jazz ensembles in the US and Europe, and his timeless compositions of Market Place and Stimela are still crowd pleasers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu – Ndiphendule:
In 1989, Quincy Jones released a groundbreaking album called Back on the Block. It featured Semenya as composer on the title track and on The Places You Find Love.

The album won seven Grammys in one night, but Semenya and his wife Letta were already respected South African musicians based in the US.

Their solo efforts and duets were earning them a loyal following. But Back on the Block gave Semenya a priceless career boost nonetheless.


Yvonne Chaka Chaka – Umqombothi:
She was dubbed the “princess of Africa” in Tanzania and still gets mobbed whenever she performs in west or east Africa. She has also lent her voice to the fight against malaria as a UN goodwill ambassador, has performed at the White House and has dined at Buckingham Palace.

Lucky Dube – I Am Slave:
He was truly South Africa’s reggae king. His tours in West Africa elicited excitement reserved for rock stars and he was respected for his critical lyrics and refreshing approach to reggae. Even in death, he was honoured by the Grammy academy during their tribute to fallen stars of the year.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes:
By the time they worked with Paul Simon in 1986 and recorded some of the most popular songs in music, they had single-handedly made isicathamiya a universal sound.

More glory followed with a Grammy in 1988 for Shaka Zulu and two more in 2005 and 2009. Many more nominations have followed their melodious harmonies.

Their fans include some of the biggest names in the world, such as Oprah Winfrey, and they have collaborated with everyone from Simon and Dolly Parton to Josh Groban and Sarah MacLachlan.

They have even been parodied on Saturday Night Live in the US and their voices were used in a tomato sauce TV commercial in the UK.

Jonathan Butler – 7th Avenue:
The guitarist and vocalist from Athlone, Cape Town, has performed on the most prestigious stages and his compositions made him a hit wherever he was based in the world.

He left South Africa in the 1980s for the UK to grow his career and stayed there for 17 years. In 1987, he earned international recognition after being nominated for a Grammy for his single Lies.

Soweto Gospel Choir – Avulekile Amasango/One Love:
The gospel ensemble achieved instant fame at the inaugural 46664 concert held at Green Point stadium in Cape Town in 2003, where they shared the stage with rock royalty U2, among others.

They won back-to-back Grammys in 2007 and 2008, and even performed at the Oscars in 2008 as backing vocalists for John Legend. On that prestigious stage they sang Down To Earth, on the soundtrack of the animated film WALL-E, which was nominated for the Best Song award.


Mahlathini and Mahotella – Melodi:
The trinity of Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde; the Queens – Hilda Tloubatla, Nobesuthu Mbadu and Mildred Mangxola; and the Makgona Tsohle Band, led by Marks Mankwane and West Nkosi, created music that was uniquely South African and provided a soundtrack to the township scene in the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Their hits Melodi, Kazet, Jive Motella and Thokozile made them a hit in Europe, Asia and the US, where they toured extensively.


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