Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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West Nkosi

When he was still in school in the late '50s, West Nkosi founded and played pennywhistle in a kwela band called the Pretoria Tower Boys. Unable to record, he moved to Johannesburg, where he saved the rands he earned as a domestic worker, bought a saxophone, and started jamming with Marks Mankwane, Joseph Makwela, and Lucky Monama, who as the Makgona Tsohle Band are credited by some with inventing the mbaqanga or township jive all by themselves. By this time Nkosi had an in at South Africa's oldest record label, Gallo, whose black talent coordinator Rupert Bopape introduced him to a big-voiced singer called Mahlathini and his backing group, the Mahotella Queens. At first these bush Zulus backed Makgona Tsohle as dancers. Then the billing switched around.

Nkosi always had a knack for giving traditional music a pop edge and an eye for the main chance. There was mabone, the dance craze rhythm he, Bopape, and Mankwane worked up in the studio in 1973. But there was also Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who he discovered on one of his numerous rural talent-scouting expeditions and convinced the skeptics at Gallo had commercial potential.

Village Voice, Oct. 1998