Sky's the limit for queen of Xhosa music

Luvuyo Kakaza

Even under the best circumstances the chances of becoming an international music star in rural Transkei are slim. But for a woman to launch a musical career from the poverty- stricken village of Mqekezweni, the odds against success are astronomical.

Madosini Manquina (60) has taken on those odds and beaten them.

After years of exploitation by local and foreign production companies, it is only recently that she has built local and international audiences with her indigenous Xhosa songs.

With her new album, Power to the Women, recorded in Johannesburg and released by MELT 2000, Manquina toured Europe a few months ago with the Cape Town-based Amapondo marimba group.

Although illiterate, the grey-haired Manquina conducted music workshops and instrument-making sessions in Xhosa with the help of a translator.

The money she made from the tour has helped her to better her life. She has built herself a bigger house and bought livestock.

“This was my way of investing my money. At least my son will remain a rich man when I go down the grave,” she says.

“I’m still a rural woman. I only got into commercial music because it was a way of maintaining our heritage.”

Taught by her mother to play the umrhubhe (mouthbow), uhadi (mouth harp) and isitolotolo (Jew’s harp), Manquina never played and sang for money.

In the rural Transkei traditional Xhosa songs were simply a way of life.

“Umrhubhe was played by young girls when they travelled long distances and during women’s initiation. Uhadi was played for leisure after supper. And isitolotolo played the lullaby songs that soothe crying babies and tired people, to induce them to sleep,” says Manquina.

Her extraordinary music is unique, not just in its scope, but also in the variety and depth of the emotions she evokes.

Since she is also a legendary storyteller, she expresses feelings and thoughts of ancient life.

Now, known as the undisputed “queen of Xhosa music” in her village, Manquina has made her name abroad and she says it is likely that she will go back for more shows.

However, she speaks bitterly about the years of exploitation in the 1970s when foreign film-makers invaded the peaceful village of Mqekezweni to shoot the film Xhosa Macbeth, which starred local actors, including musician Victor Ntoni.

Manquina’s music was used in the film and she was paid R8 for eight songs.

“White people took advantage of me because I did not speak English.”

Radio Xhosa used her music for 15 years in their short stories without any acknowledgement.

“It is only now that they mention my name when they play it on the airwaves.”

Discovered by Dizu Plaatjies of Amapondo, Manquina is also planning to claim, through the South Africa Music Rights Organisation, royalties that haven’t been paid.

Meanwhile, she relaxes in Mqekezweni, making more music and milking her cows.

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