The African Jazz Pioneers celebrate their 40th Anniversary as a group in 2023 and have provided the musical tapestry for the South African liberation movement over the last forty years.
The late Ntemi Piliso, leader and founding member, nourished the group from their humble roots to their current international acclaim. In the early 1950s, Ntemi and his “Alexandra All-Star Band” were at the cutting edge of South Africa’s proud music scene, blending American urban big band style with traditional Majuba and Marabi music influences. It seems incredible that the background to the African Jazz Pioneers stretches way back to the fifties when jazz was in fashion and big bands were the name of the game – and Sophiatown and Dorkay House were well-known melting pots of colour and culture.
After the easing of the cultural boycott in 1990, the African Jazz Pioneers were among the first to travel abroad, headlining jazz venues, festivals and concerts in Europe, Australia, Japan and Africa. They shared the stage with artists like global stars such as Youssou N’Dour, Quincy Jones, Manhattan Transfer, The Neville Brothers, Chick Corea, Gilberto Gil, Salif Keita, Nina Simone and Rita and Ziggy Marley.
Led by Mpho Sithole, the current Pioneers line-up includes some of the original veterans together with a rhythm section of fresh young talents who are learning from the masters but incorporating their own influences into the Pioneers’ unique sound.
It is true to say that the group has reached everybody in South Africa, from hipsters to liberation movements.
The original Mahotella Queens were formed in 1964 and are noted by their distinct vocal harmony sound, guitar-led mbaqanga music, and fast stage dancing.
With Hilda Tloubatla an ever-present member from the very beginning, the Queens remained productive and popular into the 1970s and 1980s with a revolving cast often led by the deep-voiced male vocals of Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde. In combination with the late Mahlathini, renowned for his deep and “groaning” vocals, the group forged a successful international touring career that lasts to this day.
The Mahotella Queens are prolific recording artists, dating back to the hundreds of recordings produced at Gallo-Mavuthela during their heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. The Queens remained with Gallo until 2005 when they joined Content Connect Africa, an independent company led by former Gallo director Antos Stella.
During the mid-1980s, a stream of Western musical projects including the seminal compilation The Indestructible Beat of Soweto and Paul Simon’s Graceland album led to the Queens performing in France at the Musique Metisse Festival in Angouleme, Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday at London’s Wembley Stadium and at many of Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD festivals around the world.
The current line-up consists of the legendary Hilda Tloubatla together with Amanda Nkosi and Nonku Maseko, both from Springs on the East Rand.
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