Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Letta Mbulu

Letta Mbulu
A unusual choice for the Tamla Motown label back in 1970 when the idea of "World Music" and WOMAD etc. would have to wait another fifteen years to become popular. I prefer the township songs here on a record produced by Hugh Masekela ( who also plays trumpet) - the soul tracks seem rather dull by comparison.

This is what Douglas Payne has to say about her-

"Letta Mbulu (pronounced "let-ah" "em-boo-loo") was born and raised in Soweto, South Africa.

Still in her teens, Letta began touring outside of Africa with the musical "King Kong," which ran for a year in England following a highly successful two-year run in South Africa. When the tour ended, she returned to South Africa but soon the policies of Apartheid were to force her to leave her native land for the U.S.A
She arrived in the United States in 1965 and quickly befriended such fellow South African exiles in New York City as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa - all alumni of the "King King" musical. Performances at New York's famed Village Gate club began to attract attention to her talents, particularly from jazz legend Cannonball Adderley, who invited her to tour with him (which she did throughout the remainder of the decade).

Letta Mbulu also displayed an early gift for writing joyful, memorable songs. These were showcased by no less an authority than Miriam Makeba on the singer's albums THE MAGNIFICENT MIRIAM MAKEBA ("Akana Nkomo"), ALL ABOUT MIRIAM ("U Shaka," "Jol'inkomo") and MAKEBA ("U-Mngoma," "Magwala Ndini").

Letta first made herself heard on records as part of Letta and the Safaris, a group featuring husband Caiphus Semenya and the South African husband and wife team of Jonas and Mamsie Gwangwa. A single, "Walkin' Around" was issued in 1966 by Columbia Records (home at the time to Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkle), but lack of publicity failed to garner much attention to the clever little R&B swinger.

Letta and Caiphus soon relocated to the West Coast, joining Hugh Masekela, who became a fixture of the California concert and recording scene. While there, producer David Axelrod fell under Letta's spell and had her signed to Capitol Records - home at the time to both the Beatles and the Beach Boys and where Axelrod himself was scoring big hits for Lou Rawls and Cannonball Adderley."




Letta Mbulu - Macongo

Letta Mbulu - Qonqoza (Knock)

Letta Mbulu - Use Mncane (Little One)


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11 comments:

Jon said...

nice, but can see why she didn't really stand out amongst the Motown roster.

michael said...

I can see that too but a brave choice for Motown at the time I suppose. Mind you, I think Hugh Masekela had just had a hit with Grazing In The Grass and there were lots of African inspired musicals around like KIng KOng and Ipi-Tombi.

emanuelebrt said...

Amazing mix of roots

Ellen Collison said...

The rumba ("Macongo") is especially nice - she's been unjustly forgotten since the late 60s, I think...

Many thanks for these posts!

Ellen Collison said...

Re. "Grazin' in the Grass," it was a big hit here in the US, but I don't recall any shows of the likes of "King Kong" playing on this side of the Atlantic at the time - am thinking that we didn't get South African shows until the 1980s.

michael said...
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michael said...

I thought I'd seen a mention of King Kong somewhere being a 60's musical but maybe it didnt get to the U.S. until the 80's because of apartheid - how ironic!

Ellen Collison said...

michael,

I'm not at all sure re. whether King Kong played here or not, but we were going through our own Civil Rights struggles when it was a new show, and I very much doubt it would have been welcome on Broadway at that time.

BTW, it's a late 1950s show.

Ellen Collison said...

michael,

I'm not at all sure re. whether King Kong played here or not, but we were going through our own Civil Rights struggles when it was a new show, and I very much doubt it would have been welcome on Broadway at that time.

BTW, it's a late 1950s show.

michael said...

Thanks for the interesting link Ellen. Nice to get a bit of background to these records. Much appreciated!

Ellen Collison said...

Here's much more info on King Kong.

Letta Mbulu was part of the original cast, BTW.