Mahotella Queens

Best of Mahotella Queens: Township Idols

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Mbaqanga, a fusion of rural and urban musical styles that emerged in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, has no more important or influential exponents than the Mahotella Queens, who have been recording and performing together, with and without male lead singer Simon Nkabinde Mahlathini, for almost 40 years. They have been superstars in their own country for decades, and the European and American markets began to take notice of them as well following the explosive success of Paul Simon's Graceland album in 1986 (on which they did not appear). This long-overdue best-of collection purports to "cover their entire career," but most of the tracks are not dated and almost all of the material sounds like it was recorded no earlier than 1985. Regardless of its completeness as an overview, though, it offers an excellent sampler of the group's various sounds and styles, from the traditional mbaqanga flavors of "Jive Motella" and "Josefa" to the reggae-influenced "I'm in Love With a Rastaman" and the resolutely forward-looking "Kumnyama Endini" (recorded after Mahlathini's death in 1999). Many tracks feature Mahlathini's trademark "groaning" vocals, but the album's focus is on the women: their sweet and powerful voices, their skillfully composed melodies, and their soaring harmonies. Very strongly recommended.

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