Johannesburg – President Jacob Zuma has paid homage to the late Busi Mhlongo who died as a result of breast cancer on Tuesday evening, calling her the “Queen of Maskanda music”.
“She inspired the nation and let the world know of South Africa’s quest for freedom,” Zuma said in a statement on Wednesday.
Calling her a “true legend”, he extended his condolences to the family and friends. She was 62.
Mhlongo transformed the Maskanda guitar music of migrant Zulu mine workers into an instrument of peace. Her music, Zuma said, had defied categorisation and emphasised the universality of the human race.
KwaZulu-Natal arts and culture MEC Weziwe Thusi said they had visited her a few weeks ago and had “hoped and prayed” she would pull through.
“I am really sad but she is in a better place now,” said Thusi of the musician who hailed from the province.
“Mhlongo will be remembered for her historic contribution to music in South Africa and abroad. Her sharing the stage with international greats including Hugh Masekela, Dorothy Masuka, Salif Keita, Manu Dibango and many others speak to her own greatness,” he said in a statement.
She achieved the feat of being the first recorded female Maskanda artist and left a legacy the nation could be proud of.
Thusi continued that young artists like Thandiswa Mazwai, Simphiwe Dana and Camagwini all credit Mhlongo for inspiring them to be true to themselves as artists and young women.
Development of SA music
“May her soul rest in peace. My sincere condolences to her family, fans and friends,” said Thusi.
The Congress of SA Trade Unions said she made a unique contribution to the development of South African music and culture, and paid tribute in her music to workers’ struggles.
“Her song Umentyisi condemned the violence inflicted on our people by their colonial masters. She fused traditional Zulu music with modern styles and promoted South African music to a worldwide audience,” read a statement issued on behalf of Cosatu’s almost two million members.
Mhlongo hailed from Inanda, north of Durban.
Queen of modern Zulu music
The SABC reported that “the queen of modern Zulu music” first made a name for herself in the 1960s by winning a talent competition. After a few productions, including the African Jazz and Variety Show, her distinctive voice, music, presence and looks opened doors in southern Africa, Europe and Canada.
She sang to rave reviews with the first World-Music band, Osi-bisa, Max Lsser, Hugh Masekela, Madala Kunene and Steve Dyer.
Mhlongo was later initiated as a sangoma, which influenced her four albums – Babhemu, Urban Zulu, Freedom and Amakholwa. She was born into a musical family at the Inanda informal settlement in Durban in 1947.
Although she was raised as a Methodist, her first public performance was at the local Shembe Church. In her own words, she was “quite a naughty child”. But singing always got her out of trouble.