The Lion of Soweto.

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I still remember that one afternoon many years ago when I walked into a record store in search of an acquisition to my expanding music library. I walked right past the section containing offerings in the rock music category and headed to the world music section instead. There wasn’t as large a selection here but that was of no concern. I just wanted some music from Africa. Ever since I saw a TV documentary of people in remote African villages singing songs and playing music, I found myself wanting to hear more.

The problem was that I didn’t know any of the artists whose works appeared on the shelf in the African music category, so I had to take a chance and make an adventurous decision. It was here when I noticed an album with a well-dressed man on the cover. His smile appeared to invite me to give his album a try, so I bought it. That album was The Lion of Soweto from the late Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde and was the very first African music album I purchased.

Once I got in my car I put the cassette in my car’s stereo and gave this album a listen. Yes, this was back when music cassettes were still sold in record stores. Anyway, what I heard next was magical. I heard Mahlathini’s powerful baritone voice roaring over lively music with virtuoso guitar playing, catchy percussive beats and harmony female backup vocals. I found the entire album enchanting and wanted to hear it again and again. My gamble had paid off. This is a perfect primer to the world of African music.

Over time I bought albums from other African artists, including Kanda Bongo Man, Johnny Clegg, and yes, another album from Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens. This one is entitled Thokozile and has more of Mahlathini’s unmistakable voice along with the unmatched harmonies of his Mahotella Queens. I give Mahlathini credit for opening the doors to an entirely different world of music, a world very different from what you hear on the radio. It is well worth your time to check it out.

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