National Orders awards
27 September 2005
Nobesuthu Gertrude Mbadu (1945 -)
The Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze for outstanding contributions in traditional music
Nobesuthu Gertrude Mbadu was born on 26 April 1945 in Durban 's Umkumbane Township , now known as Chesterville, and was raised by her father, Ferguson Mbadu, and her grandmother, Selinah Mbadu.
A singer since her primary school days, she became a member of both her school choir and her church choir, and was a lead vocalist in a group called “Amangeyami”, which sang and performed Zulu dances at community functions.
At one such function she was spotted and recruited by Max Gcaba of Lamontville, leader of a touring group, and was in fact performing with Gcaba's group in the Transvaal (now Gauteng) when record producer Rupert Bopape invited her to join a new vocal group called the Mahotella Queens to perform with the famed Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde.
Mbadu agreed, and thereby became part of an enduring South African musical phenomenon. The Mahotella Queens were far more than merely Nkabinde's choir. Their dance steps were highly inventive and one-of-a-kind, and their singing was unique, colourful and very South African, yet very universal. By the mid-1970s the “mbaqanga” sound, pioneered by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, dominated the South African popular music scene.
Then, at the height of their fame, the Mahotella Queens decided to disband because some of the singers wanted to marry and start a family. But in 1984 the group re-formed, its backbone being three of the original Queens – Mbadu, Nomsomi Mildred Mangxola and Hilda Tloubatla.
Pop music had changed drastically in their absence, with the emphasis changing to soul and disco music. Yet there was also a swing back to the older township styles, and the Mahotella Queens made the most of the opportunity with their ageless classical sound. Reunited with their old comrades, Mahlathini and composer-conductor-musician West Nkosi and his band, they set off on a long series of local and international tours and produced a series of best-selling records, staying close to their special brand of spell-binding music.
Three of the great names in the group - Simon Nkabinde, West Nkosi and guitarist Marks Mankwane – died on the eve of the new millennium. After a period of deep mourning, the Queens formed a new band and set off on the next stage of their march into posterity, more than 40 years after they had delighted their first audience in Johannesburg 's townships.
Nobesuthu Gertrude Mbadu's outstanding talent, golden voice and determination have taken her to undreamed-of peaks of achievement. For every little girl who sings for sheer joy in her church choir but dreams of being a great star, her life-story's message is: You can do it, too.
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