Busi Mhlongo (1947 - 2010)

 PEACE MAM BUSI

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picture by Dick Jewell
"I was always singing. At school, after school. I was the laziest one in my family because I just didn't have time; my time was for music, you know. I was always being punished, but I knew whenever I was punished it was because it had to do with some notes that someone - whether it was a band, or just a man playing guitar - I'd follow." Busi Mhlongo Born in Kwa Zulu, Natal, Busi Mhlongo grew up with a song on her lips. Despite being raised within her family's Methodist tradition that sadly had little recourse to music Busi sought out othe religious dominations with musical services. Haunted by melodies, she persisted in the face of adversity and begun singing with from an early age with groups led by her older and more musically advanced brother.

Albums:

  1. Indiza (Voyage) 
  2. Urban Zulu
  3. Urban Zulu Remixes
  4. Urbanzulu Live (DVD & CD)
  5. Yehlisan'umoya Azania (in the mix)
  6. We Baba Omncane (in the mix)
  7. Busi Mhlongo 'Afro Melt Volumes - The Talented Ones'
Featuring on:
  1. Max Laesser - Between
  2. Strings n' Songs (compilation DVD)
  3. MELT - The Music videos (compilation DVD)
  4. Robert Doc Mthanlane - Respect
  5. Madala Kunene - Konko Man
  6. Mabi Thobejane - Madiba
  7. Juno Reactor - Shango
  8. Skeleton - In Johannesburg
  9. Music With No Name - Vol. 4
  10. Castro B -Fidelity
  11. The Cry by Castro B & Busi Mhlongo
  12. Blaq Soul - Awukhu Muzi
  13. Gabriel Le Mar - Jump Cuts



 

 


 

Around 1963, the success of a great South African stage musical called King Kong, caused a talent drought when many of the currently hot musicians left the country to tour the show internationally.So Gallo Records had a talent competition and Busi and her brother went to Jo'burg and won it. "OK, the song we did was My Boy Lollipop," she screams. "I was a kid, really, and yes I was really rocking that My Boy Lollipop. It had been a hit for Milly in England - Island Record's first hit - and I guess because of Apartheid and the way things were working, they sort of shut Milly out and My Boy Lollipop was moving. All this for me, it was for joy, not really knowing that I would be ripped off in the business." Busi took part in many theatrical productions throughout the 1960s, including the lead in Gibson Kente's The Jazz Prophet and Liefa; stage and film productions of Bertha Egnos' Dingaka; and Alfred Herbert's African Jazz and African Follies. She worked with most of South Africa's greatest jazz and mbaqanga stars on festivals and gigs too numerous to mention and so it was that she met her husband, Early Mabuza. Early was a drummer who had played with Dollar Brand, but was more widely known for his role in a cinema commercial for condensed milk. When he joined the cast of a show Busi was appearing in, as the guest artist, she was at first dismissive: alt"To me he was a tall guy who drank condensed milk at the movies, so when I saw him I thought, 'Well he's not so tall...' "I was never so much in awe of Early as the rest of the cast and then, one day we were practising and I was sitting pretty. I had this mini skirt on and when I moved to pick something up, my legs opened and he hit me with a drum mallet. I flipped out, like, what is happening? He said, 'Sit like a lady.' That's how he proposed! He was a very quiet man, he couldn't speak. But he was a good drummer." Busi and Early had a daughter, Mpumi, but when the music called her away to tour the Portugese cabaret circuit, Busi left him holding the baby and left South Africa for Portugal, via Mozambique and Angola.
Barely a couple of months into her tour the sad news of Early's sudden death reached her. Trying to overcome the the tragic death of her husband Busi then spent five years playing in Portuguese casinos, performing the popular hits of the day and always closing the show with her African songs: "I always sing my African songs because they make me feel really free. You know like when you have been really serious and somebody says, OK now you can put on your shorts!" "I always moved because of music," she says. "Music has been my ticket." She came to London briefly in 1972 and recorded with Dudu Pukwana, Julian Bahula, George Lee, and Lucky Ranku. She even worked with Osibisa as their lead singer. It wasn't music that lead Busi to America, however, but illness. She had developed cancer and had to be treated in hospital there. Fortunately she recovered and is now completely healed.As soon as she was well enough, Busi accepted an invitation to join the cast of a stage comedy called Reefer Gladness in Toronto, Canada, in which she got to sing the songs made famous by Billy Halliday and Bessie Smith. Jackson Pollock, the abstract painter, was enchanted by her and his influence led to Busi being given her own starring vehicle, called Ship Of Fools. It was a great relief for Busi to be performing again and she had a wonderful time playing gigs with her own band at St Lawrence Hall but, in 1979, after five years in Canada, she got the chance to return to Africa on a tour of Zimbabwe, Zambia and Lesotho. She slipped into South Africa, a decade after she'd left but the Security Forces were quickly on her case so, after nine months, Busi was obliged to accept an invitation to return to Portugal to join a musical called Black Ground. Of course her agent called the minute he heard she was back, so Busi went around the casino circuit one more time, but she knew that this was just a passing moment and that she had to move on. One New Year's Eve in Madiera a Dutch family invited her to Holland. When they rang a few days later and repeated the offer, she left. Through her Dutch friends, Busi made contact first with a group of Senegalese musicians, and later with a Gambian group, Ifang Bondi and spent a couple of years based in Amsterdam, playing African music at major festivals and shows. A highlight of the Africa Roots Festival, she worked with many visiting African musicians and began to develop her own inimitable style. In the mid-eighties, Busi returned again to South Africa and formed the original Twasa band with the late Doc Mthalane. She played with Twasa and Winston Mankunku Ngozi to packed houses at The Blue Note in Durban before moving back to Holland in 1988. Her shows at the Melk Weg in Amsterdam drew rave reviews and led to a series of workshops which she ran at the club, then to a series of government-sponsored concerts in schools throughout Holland. Billed alongside Salif Keita and Manu Dibango, Busi was the highlight of the African Music Festival in Delft in 1989. Here she met Brice Wassy who was instrumental in the creation of her debut album for MELT,Urban Zulu (BW2118) and has been working as the musical director of her band.

 

 

She then returned once again to South Africa to reform Twasa. After touring Holland and Belgium in 1993, she recorded her debut album with Twasa - the majority of which was composed by Doc Mthalane, before returning to Durban in 1994. As a part of a programme to reconnect township youth with their roots, Busi ran workshops in Zulu singing and dancing in Clermont, Natal. In 1995, Busi topped a popularity poll on Radio Metro, appeared on the main stage of the Grahamstown Arts Festival with Sipho Gumede and took part, with Madala Kunene and other MELT ( artists in the Outernational Meltdown launch concert at the Africa Centre in London. She appears on Sipho's album, Ubuntu - Humanity (BW084) and also on Madala Kunene's Kon'ko Man. Busi kicked off 1996 by appearing with Hugh Masekela at a concert in London to mark the end of the Africa '95 festival and was subsequently invited to tour France and Germany. She has supported the world famous Ladysmith Black Mambazo and also collaborated with Max Lässer on the recording of his album, Between (BW103) in Johannesburg and the subsequent tour through with Pops Mohamed and members of Amampondo. Busi's debut album for MELT in 1998 is called Urban Zulu produced by Will Mowat, it has brought her international fame. Drawing on a number of styles but mainly on maskanda, Busi was inspired by The 'Sxaxa Mbij' (pulling together) Peace Project led by Khaba Mkhize in KwaZulu-Natal. Urban Zulu is essentially Busi's reinterpretation of maskanda - traditional Zulu music normally sung by working class men- for which she pulled in the expertise of Phuzekhemisi, a famed maskanda band. Two members of this group Themba Ngcobo and Mkhalelwa Ngwazi co-composed and co-wrote the entire album with Busi. In addition to the various Zulu musicians she has worked with on this album, Brice Wassy - who has also worked with Salif Keita - contributed to the direction and production of the CD.



 

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Holding the no.1 spot in the European world music charts for two months Busi's position as one of the leading South African divas was firmly established. Touring internationally and bewitching audiences with her powerful stage presence and vocal prowess she has rightfully taken her seat in the musical arena as one of the most phenomenal and exciting musicians to have emerged from South Africa. Busi's lyrics carry universally powerful and poignant messages. Her songs concern the empowerment and reconciliation of peoples who, though sharing the same citizenship, have very different political aspirations. Inanda - where she grew up, was the birthplace of African Nationalist leader John Duke, and the late prophet Isiah Shembe and has largely shaped Busi into what she is today. "The spirit of these great sons have served as a source of inspiration for me and my music", she explains. "I am a bit traditional and it is because of them. They taught us unity, love and peace among the people. Their legacy should live on." In 2000, Busi scooped three awards at the FNB South African Music Awards for BEST FEMALE ARTIST, BEST ADULT CONTEMPORARY ALBUM (AFRICA), and BEST AFRICAN POP ALBUM. Ranked alongside Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu and The Mohatella Queens, unique in becoming the first female to be spreading the maskanda style of vocals internationally, Busi has been applauded by audiences the world over. Busi has since scored a KORA award and MELT has released a compilation called INDIZA with two new tracks produced by Brice Wassy and a series of remixes by Club 3.30. "The sound is hip, quirky and compelling, upbeat in a modern, upfront way" "Busi's voice is rich and variable, coveing textural and stylistic boundaries." The Guardian "Urbanzulu is a triumphant affirmation of her mature expressive powers." The Wire "Busi's stunning hybrid Zulu/English vocals takes the distinctive flavour of Maskanda and creates pan-African pop with a western twist." Big Issue.

Mam Busi sadly lost her fight with breast cancer on the 15th of June 2010 

 

 

  (video material filmed by Dick Jewell)