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Mabuse, Sipho (Hotstix) (South Africa)  
Sipho Mabuse © Steve Gordon 2001

It was as a 16-year-old drummer in Orlando High School’s cadet band that Sipho Mabuse attracted the attention of fellow scholar and guitarist Selby Ntuli. Ntuli approached Mabuse to team up with him and fellow students Alec Khaoli (bass) and Saitana (real name Monty Ndimande; guitar) to form the band The Beaters.

Live concerts as well as broadcasts on radio Sesotho quickly established the band’s popularity and in March 1969, The Beaters?first album, Soul-A-Go-Go, was released. Dressed in mandarin-collared white jackets, flannel trousers and performing bare-foot, the group wowed its Soweto and Mamelodi audiences, Mabuse recalls, at 50 cents for adults and 40 cents for children! Two Beaters albums, Bacon and Eggs (1970) and Mumsy Hips (1971), followed.

Sipho Mabuse was born in Shantytown, Orlando West (now Soweto) in a neighbourhood he describes as “a cradle of serious political activities where our parents used to sell illegal sorghum beer. His main musical influences as a child came from his grandfather and uncles, who were traditional singers of “scatamiya" music (a choral type music sung mainly by men).

“Singing amongst black people is not something that one goes to school for, it is something you interact in your life at a very early age the professional approach to singing started at high school" recalls Mabuse. “I had always wanted to be a lawyer. Our role models had always been doctors, lawyers and principals; we aspire to be like them. Somehow I just stayed with the music."

Citing early influences, Mabuse continues:?On radio we had The Manhattan Brothers, Miriam [Makeba], The Ink Spots, Nat “King" Cole, Elvis. Then came The Beatles and Soul music. Then of course jazz, which was strong during the black consciousness era drummers like Jimmy Hendrix, Otis Redding my influences evolved around what was exciting at the particular time.

A competent musician, Mabuse mastered many instruments: the drums, flute, piano, saxophone, kalimba, alto flute, timbales and African drums. “I did have the musical [piano] lessons briefly (up to grade four) then dropped out. I was too impatient to learn…most of the instruments I taught myself, especially the saxophone and flute?in retrospect I should have continued studying."

The Beaters headed north in 1976 for a three-week tour of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which turned into a three-month success. An indication of the effect Zimbabweans had on the band became evident when they changed their name to HARARI, then a township outside Salisbury, and released an album with the same name.

In 1978, HARARI was invited to the USA by Hugh Masekela to perform with him there. “We were about to go and join him in the States when Selby (Ntuli) died - the whole thing fell through," recalls Mabuse. Mabuse now found himself the bandleader of HARARI. “Selby had always bean the band leader, and a very
vocals, drum (kit drums), flute
Genre: mbaqanga, fusion, jazz
I learnt a lot from him. When Selby died it was one of the most painful experiences for me because he and I were very close. I didn’t even think I was in a position to carry on the band at that time. I had to imagine in my mind that if he had been alive, what would he have done, and that gave me the courage to go on.

HARARI supported and backed Percy Sledge, Timmy Thomas, Letta Mbula, Brook Benton and Wilson Pickett on their South African tours. HARARI was the first black pop group to appear on SATV in 1979 (in Beat 79) and was the first non-white group its own show at the Colosseum in Johannesburg in 1980. In the same year the band was featured in a BBC TV documentary. Of HARARI Mabuse says: “We were recording some of the hottest music this country’s has ever heard." Managing Director of Gallo Records at the time, Peter Gallo, agreed: “Peter called me into his office and said, ‘Sipho, I think we have a deal in the States. [The 1980 album] Heatwave will be released in the USA.’ “We made a record called Party which sold 250 000 copies. Peter Gallo submitted this to David Keashenbaum at A&M Records." A&M, suitably impressed, offered HARARI a two-album recording and distribution deal in 1981. Two albums, Harari and Flying Out were released on the A&M label, and in 1982 their single, Party, entered the American Disco Hot 100.

Sipho Mabuse, Jiving Soweto © Steve Gordon 1985
In its early years the group played a pioneering role in the helping black musicians to be regarded as professionals by the record industry. Commented Mabuse: “There is no doubt in my mind that HARARI is responsible for the measure of respectability accorded to local musicians and the rise of black musicians in the local entertainment industry." At the end of 1982 HARARI disbanded. Mabuse continued producing an “ad hoc" HARARI with new up and-coming musicians. “I felt HARARI was too big to disappear when it could create a platform for new talent. We became a role model band…many youngsters were aspiring to play like us and I felt that I couldn’t just let this die. I dedicated myself to keeping the group as a vehicle for introducing new, old and untapped talent. I imagined a concept rather than a band. I wanted to see it growing." Mabuse has helped groom big names such as Sello “Chicco" Twala, Danny “Kamazu" Malewa and “Ashante"

(this biography courtesy Kippies Jazz International, of which Sipho Mabuse is Executive Director. Located near the Market Theatre in the Newtown Precinct, Johannesburg)

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