“Ubhek’uZulu” by Amagugu - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1974Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s

TJR says

In 1967, Sannah Mnguni, her sister Francina ‘Thopi’ Mnguni and Thoko Khumalo were three of the four founding members of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, an ensemble who had formed for the Gramophone Record Company (GRC), a subsidiary of CBS. They were one of the many ensembles set up in direct competition to Rupert Bopape’s Mahotella Queens over at Gallo. The production company at GRC was named Isibaya Esikhulu, and was intent on challenging the crown held by Gallo’s Mavuthela Music. Isibaya’s in house star-guitarist, Hansford Mthembu, married singer Thopi Mnguni and, in 1972, Mthembu and Mnguni left Hamilton Nzimande’s stable and formed a new mbaqanga frontline, Amagugu Esimanjemanje (not to be confused with the traditional Zulu group Amagugu Akwazulu), in which Hansford was to be the creative musical force. Following Thopi and Hansford were two of the original Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje girls – lead vocalist Sannah (Thopi’s sister) and harmony singer Thoko.

The new group were under the management of Natalian Titus Masikane, a man with an ear for talent. In 1974, it was Titus who introduced The Soul Brothers (then Young Brothers) to his friend, Moses Dlamini, who was the A & R man at the Gramophone Record Company. This may have been a golden opportunity missed, but Titus was too busy with Amagugu at this time – he thought them “Africa’s greatest vocal group”! Amagugu were bolstered with the addition of their own “Mahlathini” in the form of distinctive groaner Harry Nhlapo. In Kali Monare, they had a drummer who could play jazz, rock and mbaqanga styles with equal aplomb. In 1974, they released their first LP, “Ubhek’uZulu”, which appeared on Skyline Jazz, a subsidiary label of South African EMI.

Imvula” (“Rain”) is an early highlight, an exceedingly fast-paced number – how do those guitarists keep up? – sweet in both the lead and harmony female vocals, perhaps even spoiled a bit by the gruff male intervention. There’s not a weak track on side 1 and “Inyoni Emhlophe” (“White Bird”) is every bit the equal of “Imvula”, but sung more gently, and with no gruff males to scare the bird away! “Chuchu Makgala”, penned by singer Thandi Kheswa, is my favourite and closes side 1 of the set. They all play their part well here; there are neat guitar tricks and licks from Hansford Mthembu and Harry Nhlapo’s groan is mean and tough. The only missteps on this LP come at the very end of side 2 as they inexplicably burst into conventional western pop territory, even going so far as to sing “King of My Heart” in English. “Salani Kahle” (“Good Bye”) finishes the album happily, again in a western pop style. Frankly, I take a very dim view of this type of thing. I shouldn’t complain too much though – I downloaded this LP for free from Electric Jive! Get it here.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [03:05] 6.3.png Amagugu - Ubhek’uZulu (Harry Nhllapho) Africana
A2 [02:35] 7.6.png Amagugu - Imvula (Umqnagabhodwe) Africana
A3 [03:05] 6.5.png Amagugu - Ulwandle (Umqnagabhodwe) Africana
A4 [02:43] 7.4.png Amagugu - Inyoni Emhlophe (Umqnagabhodwe) Africana
A5 [02:43] 7.2.png Amagugu - Instsholontsholo (Umqnagabhodwe) Africana
A6 [02:28] 8.4.png Amagugu - Chuchu Makgala (Thandi Kheswa) Africana
B1 [02:32] 7.0.png Amagugu - Mesong (Kali Monare) Africana
B2 [02:29] 6.2.png Amagugu - Samelu (Sannah Mnguni) Africana
B3 [02:15] 6.8.png Amagugu - Emakhabaleni (Titus Masikane) Africana
B4 [02:28] 7.0.png Amagugu - Mngane Wami (Titus Masikane) Africana
B5 [03:05] 4.2.png Amagugu - King Of My Heart (Hansford Mthembu) Pop
B6 [02:43] 4.6.png Amagugu - Salani Kahle (Hansford Mthembu) Pop
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