#TBT: Busi Mhlongo – ‘Urban Zulu’

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Busi Mhlongo was born in 1947 in Inanda, a rural village in Kwa-Zulu Natal. Her sound was influenced by her being initiated as a sangoma and it also drew a lot from Maskanda, Mbaqanga, Worldbeat and traditional Zulu music. She was a legend in South Africa in her later years but was more popular in the European market as she spent a lot more time there because of the economic climate in South Africa at the time.

Urban Zulu was released in 1999, at a time when Maskanda and traditional Zulu music had never really been heard being sung by a woman in the international market. On Urban Zulu, Busi wrote about struggling to find ones identity, violence and unrest in the country, destruction of traditions in post-apartheid South Africa and the need to re-invent those traditions in order to keep them alive.

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At the 2000 SAMA Awards Busi won awards for Best Female Artist, Best Adult Contemporary Album (African) and Best African Pop Album. Urban Zulu became the most successful album of her career and solidified her position in the music industry.

She sang about the human condition and social consciousness and her music had no bounds and no borders of language, she simply just drew you in and made you feel and that is what lay in the crux of her success as an artist. Her stage presence was unmatched: she took her audience into a trance because of the sheer power and conviction she conveyed through her voice and her body.

Mam’ Busi pushed the envelope in the South African music industry and influenced a generation of musicians. Artists like Thandiswa Mazwai and Simphiwe Dana speak of how she inspired them not just as musicians but as women of Africa as well. Even though she is not with us anymore her music and legacy will never be forgotten.

Watch her live performances of Urban Zulu album records ‘We Baba Omncane’ and ‘Yehlisani Umoya Ma-Afrika (African Nation – Calm)’ at the Rocskilde Festival in Denmark in 1999 below.

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