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Mathole, Menyatso (Ményatsô Mathôlê ) (South Africa)  
MENYATSO MATHOLE © S.Gordon/Musicpics 2016

MENYATSO MATHOLE was born in Bloemfontein, and raised by a grandparent in Thaba Nchu, which at the time was a part of the Bophutatswana homeland near the Lesotho border.

  As with so many musically-aspiring youngsters, his first instrument was a self-made oilcan guitar,  and as his skills progressed he was loaned an acoustic guitar from a friend, which he later bought for the sum of 15 shillings. “He didn’t think it was right for me to be borrowing the instrument all the time, and felt that I should in fact own my guitar”, reflects Menyatso.

  Menyatso’s earliest musical learnings were from the radio, and he cites the legendary mbaqanga guitarist and producer Marks Mankwane as a formative influence during his youth. “Marks Mankwane was the cornerstone of so many of the Mavuthela productions which dominated the radio stations, a pioneer of the mbaqanga sounds, firstly as an arranger, and of course as an instrumentalist. As a kid, I aspired to be like Marks – I found his music honest, and his melodic identity unique.”

guitar, bandleader
Genre: African Jazz, African, mbaqanga, jazz
As a teenager, Menyatso was recuited by a drummer to travel to Johannesburg, and as from the early 1970’s, he was based in Diepkloof, Soweto. He worked with many bands during this time, mostly playing marabi and mbaqanga, and he reflects especially on his early mentorship by penny whistle legend Lemmy “Special” Mabaso and his brother Tlakes Mabaso. He also mentions trumpeter Thabo Mashishi as one of his closest associates in his early Diepkloof times.

By the mid 1970’s, Menyatso Mathole was regularly playing at the Pelican Night Club, an iconic live music venue in Orlando, Soweto. “Musicians who I played with and learned from include guitarist Baba Mokoena, trumpeter Stompie Manana, Dick Khoza (drums), keyboardsit Arthur Tshabalala, Thomas Khumalo (vocals) and Kenny Mathaba (guitar).  “We often performed as an opening act for groups such as The Beaters (which later became Harari)."

  The political climate of the mid 1970’s, and indeed the Soweto uprising of 1976 impacted on the music, and inspired artists to explore new expressions, and Menyatso found himself at the fulcrum of an emerging Afro-jazz epoch. By the late 1970’s, he was recuited by drummer Nelson Magwaza and keyboardist Jabu Nkosi to join the legendary afro fusion band “Drive”, along with the percussionist Hayward Mahlangu (aka Makhaya Mahlangu).

It was against the backdrop of a newly invigorated Black Consciousness which was sweeping the country, that several of Manyatso’s musical partners became active in bands such as Drive, and the iconic afro-jazz outfit Spirits Rejoice. In 1980, Menyatso joined Sipho Gumede, Khaya Mahlangu, Mabe Thobejane, Madoda Mathunjwa, and Themba Mkhize in establishing the group Sakhile.

Menyatso onstage with Khaya Mahlangu (L) and Sipho Gumede (R) of Sakhile - © S.Gordon 1987
Sakhile released its debut album in 1980, and evolved to become the legendary afro-jazz group which for many, contributed the soundtrack to the cultural renaissance of the 1980’s. There were several mutations of Sakhile, all of which showcased the extraordinary nimble sounds of Menyatso Mathole. As a member of Sakhile, Manyatso played at Wembley Stadium for the Nelson Mandela Tribute Concert, toured South Africa, the continent, and Europe.

In the early 1990’s, Menyatso relocated to Cape Town, and whilst still active in Sakhile, pursued his studies in Jazz under Mike Campbell at the SA College of Music, University of Cape Town.

  Together with longtime Sakhile partners Mabe Thobejane, Sipho Gumede and Khaya Mahlangu, Menyatso recorded what was to be Sakhile’s finale album, “Togetherness”.

  Subsequent to the passing of pivotal Sakhile member, Sipho Gumede, Menyatso proceeded to form his own trio, performing thoroughout South Africa, and regularly assisted by Mandla Zikalala, Herbie Tsoaeli, Nhlanhla Radebe and Dalisu Ndlazi (bassists); Sphiwe Shiburi, Baco Xaba, and Kevin Gibson (drummers), and horn players including Leon Sharnick  and Sydney Mnisi (saxophones), and Thabo Bodila Mashishi (trumpet) .

This biography prepared by Steve Gordon for the website, April 2017

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