AMAKHOLWA Believers the final album in an extraordinary career, harnesses the spirit of one of South Africa’s most enigmatic performers, Busi Mhlongo to showcase the power of
musical genius to unite a community and ignite the future generations.
A true unsung hero – and the high priestess of Zulu music, once diagnosed with cancer, Busi’s last chapter in her life turned her invaluable attention to impacting her immediate community. In 1993 after returning from 25 years in exile, through her songs and fiery performance, uniting the disparate South African communities of Miami, Toronto, Amsterdam, Lisbon and London, Busi returned to Kwa-Zulu Natal.
She began work with the Umzansi Art Centre in Clermont Township to train high school girls and boys ,from Sithengile and Zakhele High Schools, for songs in a Musical/Variety Show penned by executive producer of the documentary Vusi Mchunu, called Uxolo kancane – Full Peace Dream. The conflict between Inkatha Freedom Party and the African National Congress was engulfing all townships of Durban, at the time. With her enigma and energy for an authentic self-expression, she transformed the youngsters into star singers, before embarking on a tour of the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown Makhanda in 1994. The Umzansi Ensemble were the pick and toast of the festival, stamping a national enthusiasm for Urban Zulu Music. They also sang for Mandela’s first visit to address Durbanites.
In the last 10 years of Busi Mhlongo’s ebbing life, through the band Twasa and release of ABABHEMU album, the high of multi-award winning album URBANZULU and her epic swan-song AMAKHOLWA-BELIEVERS, Busi united the music of the community of Zulu guitar players of Durban. By switching from Afro-pop, Afro-jazz and Afro-Rock into Maskandi music, she combined her roots as an initiated sangoma, raised in the mountain village of Ohlange in KwaZulu Natal; her love for the traditions of Zulu music of Princess Magogo of Umakhweyana fame, and her experience of performing in exile with the big West African funk and high-life bands Osibisa in London, Salif Keita in Paris and the super Gambian band Ifang Bondi, in Amsterdam, into a unique musical statement.
Busi and Twasa was unique and transformative, ushering a new direction for Zulu music, whilst invigorating audiences and communities with an irresistible sense of colour, harmony, healing and humanity. Busi’s fight with cancer took a back-seat to her music and the endless inspiration she wished to share. Producer & Cinematographer, Lianne Cox, Busi’s videographer at the time, took her to see
healers Dr Michael and Dr Mary who described the cancer as a manifestation of anger. Busi’s life story had left scars with the murder of her husband, the estrangement for her daughter, the self-imposed exile, the exploitation at the hands of ruthless and apathetic record labels. But it was the music, and the community of musicians and youngsters that grew around her in her Westville home that was most important to her.
Her final life’s work AMAKHOLWA Believers was recorded in an inspired and collaborative process between Durban and Johannesburg only several months before her death. Produced by Vusi Mchunu, this extraordinary project showcased Busi’s collaborative approach to music excellence as Direction and Production was deliberately shared across multiple musicians. There was a collaborative laying of demo tracks with Steve Dyer; introducing young Jazz pianist Nduduzo Makhathini as musical director; fiery practice with top-notch Joburg based musicians at the Nokwe Studios; recording direction by Johann Coulson and mastering by the Stellenbosch master at Coulson’s Robertson Studios.
Busi’s own Afro-Gospel tunes, stirring and powerful became a symbolic bidding of farewell to all her fans and family. AMAKHOLWA Believers remains a classic to this day, nominated for the 2009 SAMA Awards, flighted on SABC’s Afro Café to popular acclaim about 10 times, and remaining to this day viral to listeners on the internet.