Recipients of the Womex 2000 Award as "World Music Artist of the Year" at the recent Womex Conference in Berlin, THE MAHOTELLA QUEENS are South Africa's foremost Afro-pop singing group. The Queens - Hilda Tloubatla, Mildred Mangxola, and Nobesuthu Mbadu - first sealed their place in the legend of urban South African music in the early 1960s when, together with Mahlathini (the "Lion of Soweto") and the musicians of the Makgona Tsothle Band ("Band Who Knows Everything"), they invented Mbaquanga, a strong and explosive potion of various types of traditional music (Zulu, Sotho, Shangaan, Xhosa) mixed with Marabi (South African jazz) and American R&B, soul, and gospel. They soon hit the international stage as heroes of the cultural resistance to Apartheid and as idols to South Africa's black community during the dark years. Far more than just Mahlathini's female choir, the Mahotella Queens were one of his group's key elements, the extra bit of soul that gave this music its unique color, intimately original yet widely universal.
During the mid-'70s the three Queens took a break due to marriages and childbirths, but they rejoined Mahlathini's ensemble in the early '80s and largely contributed to the success of the group. In 1987, producer West Nkosi - saxophonist, penny-whistle player, and conductor of the Makgona Tsothle Band - took advantage of a stay in Paris to cut the record "Paris - Soweto" for the French label Celluloid, resulting in the Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens' inter-national hit "Kazet."
The successive deaths of West Nkosi, Marks Mankwane, and Simon Nkabindé Mahlathini marked 2000 with so many black stones. After a period of mourning and great sadness, the Mahotella Queens decided to take up once again, along with a band made up of young musicians from their homeland. Resolutely turned to the future, the three Queens have returned to battle. It's nothing short of the birth of a new group, a new story, and a new adventure for those who have never given up the struggle.
Released on the Harmonia Mundi label, Sebai Bai (produced by Christian Mousset and Teissier Du Cros at Studio Gil Evans in Amiens and SABC Studios in Johannes-burg) is the reflection of the music of the "new" Mahotella Queens. It enjoyed the collaboration of Régis Gizavo, a marvelous Malagasy accordionist, and Xavier Jouvelet (percussionist for Papa Wemba, Ray Lema, and Salif Keita), both accomplished musicians and fans from the very start of the Mahotella Queens' career. Out of faithfulness for their lost companions, this latest record is entirely dedicated to Mahlathini, West Nkosi, and Marks Mankwane and testifies to the vitality of a culture prey to uniformization and globalization. These three exceptional women, these three great African voices, have returned with their new songs, their new show, and are out to conquer the world.