It was a case of she died but no one said a word. Details are sketchy but DRUM is reliably informed that songbird Emily Zwane has died. The famed mbaqanga singer, who made her name with the Mahotella Queens during the ’70s and ’80s, died at 72 after a long illness.
Independent music researcher Norton Ramavhoya told DRUM that Emily’s daughter, Nelly Zwane, wasn’t the sort of person who would make the news known to the media.
“Nelly isn’t someone who could have made it known to the public,” Norton said. “Even the funeral service was private matter with the press completely barred from the proceedings.”
Hilda Tloubatla, one of the original Mahotella Queens, is deeply saddened by the news of Emily’s death. “I live not too far from Emily but even I was not aware she’s passed away. I had to find out through an industry colleague from the UK. Can you imagine that? She was a sweet, respectful girl who joined the band from around the late 1970s.”
“Tsamaya Moratuoa is certainly one song I recall right now that she did,” said Yvonne Chaka Chaka when we called her about the news. “She had a sweet voice. It’s just sad people like Emily were not celebrated. My awards show, Backing Vocalists and Session Musicians Awards, tries to honour singers and musicians across the board. But we honour the ones who are still alive. Going forward, we’ll be looking at ways to honour people posthumously. With hindsight, Emily should have been celebrated.”
Emily was born on 1 May 1945 in Brakpan, Ekurhuleni. The many compositions Emily penned for the Mahotella Queens include Ke Mmarona, Selailai, Ke Sokolohlile, Duma Duma, Uma Ngibuya Emsebenzini, Moleko Ntlohele and Bana Mamelang.
Emily also lent her vocals to some of the group’s most well-known material, including Umculo Kawupheli, Thina Siyakhanyisa, Thatha Izimpahla Zakho, Lebowa Lelegolo and Mosese O Mosweu. She also provided backing vocals for the dynamic soul singer Walter Dlamini alongside Irene Mawela and Thandi Radebe.
We’re reliably told that Emily was buried in Tsakane on the East Rand a few weeks ago. She’s survived by her daughter Nelly and 10 grandchildren.
May her soul rest in peace!