Sheer Publishing News

Sheer devastated at the loss of “unique talent” Busi Mhlongo

Jun 18, 2010

Busi MhlongoJohannesburg-based Sheer Sound and Sheer Publishing are mourning the loss of Busi Mhlongo, an artist, performer and songwriter both independent music companies describe as a “unique talent”.

Damon Forbes, owner of Sheer Sound, Mhlongo’s recording home, says the Zulu roots artist was “an incredible musical talent and amazingly spiritual person”. “I can only hope that South Africans can, in time, realise how amazing Busi’s creative talent was and see how she was never given the commercial recognition I believed she was destined to achieve. Our thoughts are with her daughter and the Mhlongo Family”

This belief in Mhlongo’s talents is echoed by her longtime music publisher, Dave Alexander of Sheer Publishing. “In a word Busi was unique and an extraordinary woman,” comments Alexander.

“Always quiet and humble yet very confident about what she wanted to achieve and secure in her musical gifts, I will never forget the way she always called me ‘my dear’. Busi will be sorely missed, as a composer, an artist and a larger-than-life personality.”

Robert Trunz, who worked with Mhlongo through his M.E.L.T. 2000 label, releasing ‘Urban Zulu’ in 1999, said: ” he expresses his condolences to the Mhlongo family, especially to Busi’s only daughter Mpume. He added he felt very privileged to have been allowed to release her highly acclaimed album Urban Zulu. Her popularity amongst the youth is huge and best expressed by the many talented young remixers eager, proud and happy to honour her work with their own versions Mam Busi’s work.”

Mhlongo lost her long battle against cancer on Tuesday night (June 15th) – ironically a day before South Africa celebrates youth day. “ she had been fighting cancer for some time and, in recent months, had been at peace with her life and people she had interacted with over time.” said Forbes

Through Sheer Sound, Forbes released Mhlongo’s first album ‘Babhemu’ – a joint effort that also featured her band Twasa and longtime friend and Manager Neil Comfort. It was an album that was only released in South Africa a full two years after it was recorded (in many ways, echoing the struggle that seems to have defined much of Mhlongo’s musical life). That album earned Mhlongo critical acclaim and spawned the singles “Izinziswa”, “Ting Tingi” and “Mfaz’ onga Phesheya”, the latter reaching number one on national urban station, Metro FM. During this period Hugh Masekela became a huge fan and friend to Busi that later resulted in the recording of her album “freedom’.

A trio of albums followed Babehmu including ‘Urban Zulu’ produced by Will Mowatt on the MELT 2000 label, this launched Busi on a global tour ending at a concert in Newtown Johannesburg. This was undeniably Mhlongo’s most acclaimed work and one that earned her a growing international audience for her fiery Zulu roots music that was nonetheless accessible to a diverse audience.

Over the last few years, several tracks have been remixed by youth indicating how highly held she is in the music community across various genres, including work with Black Coffee, and French producer Frederic Galliano. In 2009, a definitive collection of rare and released material was compiled by Sheer called “African Classics”.

Mhlongo’s Maskanda-influenced sound was also striking in the fact that it was the first time a Zulu woman had expressed Zulu traditional music through commercial releases to an international audience.

Mhlongo, born 1947 as Victoria Busisiwe Mhlongo, was originally from Inanda in (then) Natal, South Africa. A virtuoso singer, dancer and composer, Mhlongo’s music drew on Maskanda along with other traditional South African styles like Mbaqanga and Marabi and she was never afraid to also include contemporary elements (jazz, funk, rock, gospel, rap, opera, reggae) and even West African music into her signature sound.
Over the years, Mhlongo worked with other significant African musicians including Hugh Masekela, Dr. Philip Tabane, and Mabe Thobejane.

Awards came her way – including in 2000 for the release of “Urban Zulu”, Mhlongo scooped three awards at the FNB South African Music Awards: Best Female Artist, Best Adult Contemporary Album (Africa) and Best African Pop Album.

Several fundraising initiatives were also undertaken when news of Mhlongo’s illness surfaced – and the list of those involved in raising funds for her medical bills was more confirmation of Mhlongo’s standing amongst her peers. Among the fundraisers was the first South African Music Benefit concert held by South African Broadcasting Corporation initiated by Sipho Sithole that included President Thabo Mbeki as an honorable guest. On the 21st May this year, Ngwenyama Holdings – a company owned by Swazi Prince Makhosini Dlamini – announced ‘A Tribute Concert to Busi Mhlongo’ at the South African Playhouse on May 30th.

Forbes recollects Mhlongo’s long-lasting personal and professional impact saying, “Busi’s was the first album I ever released, She stayed with me in that early period and I got to know her essence well. She was a strong- minded woman who believed she should be heard. Busi said what she thought and believed in herself and her right to be recognised locally as well as internationally for what she represented within the Zulu culture – not only as an ambassador but as an incredible musical talent and amazingly spiritual person.”

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