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Dorothy Masuka was one of the most famous township singers in 1950’s South Africa and a pin-up to boot.

She was best friend’s with Miriam Makeba and wrote some of the biggest hits of that decade. But then she dared to write a political song about the then Prime Minister Dr Malan and was exiled for over 30 years.
After many years working as a flight attendant for Zambian Airways, she returned to South Africa and to music at the beginning of the 1990’s.

Dorothy Masuka -Ufikizolo

Dorothy Masuka – South Africa´s Grand Lady

Equally at home in South Africa and Zimbabwe, Dorothy Masuka is not only one of the most important singers of the generation of Miriam Makeba, but has for decades also been a talented songwriter whose pen, for example, produced Makeba´s hit “Pata Pata”.Dorothy Masuka was born in what was back then South Rhodesian Bulawago in 1935 and lives in Yeoville/ Johannesburg today.

Together with Dolly Rathebe and Miriam Makeba, Dorothy Masuka is the third great singer to appear in the milieu of South Africa´s black music scene in the late forties and the fifties, an era seen today as the golden age of Township Jazz. She was born in what is today Zimbabwe, and her parents came from South Africa and Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). At the age of ten she went to a Catholic mission school in Johannesburg. She soon became the leader of the school choir. In a small Chinese shop next to the boarding school there was a juke box through which Dorothy Masuka discovered North American Swing music and singers like Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan.

Dorothy Masuka was herself discovered as a sixteen year-old by the record company Troubadour, and a short time later went on a tour throughout South Africa with the famous band African Inkspots and began to write her own songs, among them hits like “Pata Pata”. It was not only the concert organisers who were clamouring for her but also the photographers. She was photographed countless times for the legendary magazine Drum, for example.

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It was in 1957 that she first came into conflict with the regime, because of a song about the apartheid minister Malan, and the record had to be withdrawn from the market. In 1961, after the censors had banned her song ”Lumumba”, about the recently murdered Congolese politician, and confiscated all the records including the master tape, Dorothy Masuka returned to Bulawayo, for she had been declared persona non grata in South Africa, something which was not to be reversed until 31 years later. Four years later she also fell out with the Southern Rhodesian authorities and was only able to avoid arrest by fleeing to Zambia, by then independent. She spent the following sixteen years in exile, there as well as in Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania lost her husband and two sons, who belonged to the militant wing of the ANC, and was only able to return to Bulawayo after the independence of Zimbabwe, where she continued her temporarily interrupted musical career. Eleven years later, in 1992, she was also finally able to return to South Africa, where she lives and works today. For, as she says it: “To stay alive I have to sing.”

Almost all the successful South African singers from Miriam Makeba to Letta Mbulu are deeply indebted to Dorothy Masuka´s art, have learned from her, worked with her and been influenced by her. Hugh Masekela, who has many Dorothy Masuka songs in his repertoire, says of her: “Her talent and her courage have always impressed me. For me she is one of the best artists of our generation!”

Author: Wolfgang König culturebase@hkw.de

The Mahotella Queens

mahotella queens 2 copy

Legendary South African song and dance crew Mahotella Queens have been purveyors of lush vocal harmonies and unique bouncy dance steps for more than four decades. They are some of the most notable exemplars of mbaqanga, a style emerging from Johannesburg suburbs like Sophiatown which fused rural Zulu vocal music with Afro-American pop (initially big band swing) later, incorporating gospel, r&b, and other styles as it further defined itself and rose to prominence in the 1960s.

Mahotella Queens -Mama Thula

Other groups like Irene & The Sweet Melodians  are simply formed from former members of the Mahotella collective

irene & the sweet melodians label -good luck

Irene and The Sweet Melodians -Nginifisela Inhlanhla (good luck)

irene & the sweet melodians label -Uthlmangithini

Irene and The Sweet Melodians -Uthi Mangithini

irene and the sweet melodians -nqgoqo

Irene and The Sweet Melodians -Nqonqo

irene & the sweet melodians label

Irene & the Sweet melodians -awulilela

4 thoughts on “South African Soul Divas pt 2 Dorothy Masuka, Mahotella Queens, Irene & The Sweet Melodians

  1. It’s official – you are a star. This music is brilliant and so much of it has remained obscure and hard to find until very recently, with the efforts of people like yourself. Thank you so much for these wonderful treats. The big question is… without wanting to sound ungrateful… do you have any more of those great ‘Ziya Duma’ singles?

    It’s hard not to love the sweet voices of Dorothy Masuka and Irene Mawela!
    =:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:=:

    I agree with you that the voices of Dorothy Masuka and Irene are hard to resist. I must admit that I have only discovered Dorothy’s music until recently…but what a powerful voice and such sweet music she makes. Really mindblowing! And it soothes me when I’m feeling blue. That is the power of a great singer, isn’t it?
    Thanks for the nice words. The Ziya Duma 45’s are the only ones in my possession but I’ll keep diggin for more….Eddy

  2. By listening to their music,Dorothy Masuka and Irene,their voices ,and how they express themselves,i can tell we are trully blessed as South Africans to have such gifted musicians.

  3. Bonjour, vous faites un travail merveilleux!grâce à ces chansons,la vie est plus belle.Excusez-moi,je suis un grand fan de Sophie thapedi et je cherche tout sur elle et surtout la chansons: change my mind. Merci et je vous félicite encore!
    Gabriel

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