The National Arts Festival annually pays tribute to an artist who has made a significant mark on the country’s arts landscape and, this year, the fitting recipient of the accolade of Featured Artist is indigenous musician Madosini Latozi Mpahleni, best known as simply Madosini.
These 11 episodes offer glimpses of Madosini performing in varied settings – from grand stages to intimate rooms, solo and in conversation with other musicians. This series was made under Covid-19 lockdown, a process made even more complicated by the fact that Madosini herself fell ill and was in hospital for five weeks. This meant that filming her was not possible and, as a result, we have relied on existing and archival footage to create this tribute. There are great variations in the technical quality of the material, but they have been chosen to reflect Madosini’s powers as a musician, stage performer, storyteller, and icon of an extraordinary cultural tradition.
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EPISODE 1 – MJEKO SOLO
The first introduction to Madosini playing Mrhubhe, in a lyrical solo performance, of a song from her youth. It shows her with a cultural group from her home village and in a teaching role on a visit to Zanzibar, which includes a meeting with Bi Kidude, the late great queen of Taraab music.
EPISODE 2 – NOZIMAMA
Another song from Madosini’s early years is the first introduction to her playing the Uhadi. Her mother taught her this song to comfort her. As an adult she changed the lyrics to speak about love lost. The episode features a duet between Madosini and Zolani Mahola. Like Wenu Segoli, this song was used in the soundtrack of the film Yesterday.
EPISODE 3 – ITYILENI
This is about the train from Mthatha to Cape Town and evokes people’s deep associations with the trains that used to cross the South African countryside. It is the song that introduces the Isitolotolo, the third instrument on which Madosini is a virtuoso. It has a driving rhythm and playful spirit and Madosini performs it in concert with a tight ensemble of other musicians.
EPISODE 4 – IPARADIS
A song on the Uhadi with a religious theme, saying “God, be with me, be with me”. It is performed twice here in two very distinct styles. The episode features a collaboration between Madosini and classical composer Hans Huyssen, who created The Songs of Madosini.
EPISODE 5 – MJEKO (TWO)
This episode shows the evolution of a project in which Madosini’s solo traditional music is brought into conversation with the jazz idiom. It is a repeat of the beautiful song Mjeko from Episiode 1, but there the song was close to Madosini’s original experience as a young person, and here it is expanded into a layered, mesmerising musical experience.
EPISODE 6 – HULE HULE
This is a high spirited and irreverent song, performed by Madosini on the Uhadi, first raising the roof in a small venue in Cape Town and then in a very different key at the Whale Well in Cape Town, with Hilton Schilder, Jonny Blundell and Pedro Espi Sanchis in their first outing as Madojazz (now known as Amathongo).
EPISODE 7 – MOTOKALI
This is another song from childhood, composed by Madosini and friends when young. It is about the excitement of seeing a car when that sight was very rare in their part of the world. With Madosini on the Mrhubhe, with percussion and voices, it is childlike yet rhythmically very exciting. The episode includes the first-hand story of the first record made of Madosini’s music in 1975.
EPISODE 8 – MVIMBENI
This is a song about people who don’t behave decently and don’t share, as Madosini tells us in the introduction which (like all her introductions) show her as the great storyteller that she is. The episode features Madosini on Uhadi with the jazz ensemble Amathongo, an opportunity to appreciate the music produced to a very high value.
EPISODE 9 – WENU SEGOLI
WENU SEGOLI is a hauntingly beautiful song on the Mrhubhe about women left at home under the migrant labour system. This song was used on the soundtrack of the film Yesterday and the episode ends with that powerful version.
EPISODE 10 – HOSPITAL AND SEA CHANGE SONG
This episode tells the story of Madosini’s dramatic experience of being hospitalised in France last November, and her homecoming. She was on tour with Derek Gripper and the episode features a collaboration between them. The first project she was involved in after her return was an exciting musical exchange facilitated by the Sea Change Project, and the episode ends with their song featuring Madosini on Mrhubhe with Zolani Mahola among others.
EPISODE 11 – NDILALA
NDILALA is an energetic and joyful finale with Madosini on the Uhadi with a lot of different musicians. It will capture Madosini’s signature farewells – she loves to leave audiences on a high and full of the joys of life.