The Mahotella Queens were formed in 1964 originally as a five piece but are now down to three original members. The perform close three part harmonies accompanied by sprightly dance steps that belie their ages. It’s a short set but each song is accompanied by a humorous introduction and performed with an energy and a joy that comes from performers doing what they love. They could have been the headline act in their own right and it was a fantastic way to open the show. They’ve made hundreds of recordings so it’s easy to check some of their music out, well worth doing and definitely worth going to see live.
Another South African musical stalwart, Hugh Masekela has been playing his distinct brand of South African jazz since the mid-fifties and at the age of 71 he’s still going strong. He’s always used his music to protest racism, the old apartheid system of his homeland and the hard life of the townships, but his music has also always had a beauty and a joy for life that has always been uplifting.
His band consists of drums, keyboards, six-string bass, lead guitar and congas with of course Hugh Masekela himself on flugelhorn. His playing is fluid and intense and the songs are great to dance to, encompassing elements of jazz, funks and of course Hi-life. He gives us an amusing tale of how he’s really from Brighton but got caught up in a storm while swimming and ended up in the townships. Always good to engage with the audience, apparently when he played in Newcastle he tells them he’s really a Geordie and I’m sure he’s a Cockney when he plays in London. In between numbers he chats to the audience and when he’s playing he can’t help dancing to this own music.
The band play a great version of “Coal Train”, about the steam engines that used to carry forced labour to Johannesburg, and he imitates all the clanking, whistling and tooting of an engine throughout the tune.
Always great to see play live, he’s a proper ambassador for South African music. Great stuff.