Lebo Mathosa: Kwaito Star and Actress
By Shola Adenekan
Lebo Mathosa who has died aged 29, in a road accident, was one of Africa’s leading ladies of song. Arguably, South Africa’s most electrifying live performer, her powerful voice and provocative dance routines reminiscent of a young Tina Turner.
With her peroxide-blonde hair, Mathosa epitomized the generation that came of age after apartheid; the, affluent, confident and media-savvy generation that inherited that nation's young democracy.
Her hero was the late singing sensation, Brenda Fassie and like Fassie she was known as a diva and seen by many as a sex symbol.
The music genre that made Mathosa famous across Africa and beyond was Kwaito.
Essentially a form of dance music, Kwaito like Mathosa, came from the cultural basement in the townships catapulting itself into the mainstream
The music grew from American house music in the early 1990s, with Mathosa and her peers adding their own version of rap, melodies, congas and bass-lines to give it an African feel.
Mathosa shot to fame in 1994 as a lead singer and dancer for the award-winning dance group, Boom Shaka. With its swirl of irresistible dance beats and cheeky lyrics, Boom Shaka caught the attentions of many young Africans in the mid-1990s, with Mathosa and other members of the group becoming superstars and icons to many in and outside South Africa.
Mathosa on stage with P Diddy
Born to Nomvula Magdeline and Madimetsha Gerriet Mathosa in Dayeton, a small town just outside Johannesburg. The family later moved to Pietersburg and then Johannesburg where the young Mathosa attended St Mary’s High School.
Mathosa started singing in her local church choir when she was seven years old. But it was not until the family moved to Johannesburg that the teenage Mathosa discovered Bubblegum music - the disco-infused music fronted by the likes of Yvonne Chaka Chaka and Brenda Fassie.
Aged 14. her captivating voice and dance style attracted the attention of a key Johannesburg DJ, and Fassie also took the young singer under her wing, proclaiming that she would be the next Brenda Fassie
Mathosa was entranced by the music and when the opportunity to join a new band arose, she jumped at it.
Boom Shaka became an instant success but Mathosa’s dance routine and revealing short skirts also caused controversy and offended many who were shocked that a teenager could be so daring.
Their first album, About Time, was an instant hit but the group courted controversy again with their last album when they added dance beats into their version of "Nkosi Sikelela", the South African national anthem.
Ellen Elmendorp for The New York Times
Mathosa was carried onto the stage at the MTV Africa launch in Johannesburg, South Africa.
While Boom Shaka became one of Africa’s best known groups, Mathosa decided to strike out on her own. She did something that was unheard of in South Africa’s music scene by negotiating full publishing rights to her work.
Her solo debut album, Dream, was released in mid-2000 but despite winning three national music awards in 2001, the album was not a commercial success.
There was a four year hiatus before she released her next album and there were rumours that she was dead. The album, Drama Queen, saw Mathosa trying out a mixture of styles and the title was seeing by many as an appropriate adjective to describe Mathosa’s lifestyle of tantrum, fast cars and alcohol.
The album took her to the top of the music chart in South Africa and into the society pages of newspapers across the continent.
Television and film roles soon came calling and she was given acting and singing roles in on national TV soap operas, Generations, Backstage and Muvhango and the film Soldiers of The Rock.
Her sex symbol status was confirmed with her appearance in South Africa’s version of The Vagina Monologues in 2004.
In 2001, Mathosa performed in London, England, at an event to celebrate South Africa return to multi-racial democracy. The same year, she performed at South African edition of North Sea Jazz Festival.
With Brenda Fassie’s death from a suspected drug-induced cardiac arrest in 2004, many saw Mathosa as the new Fassie - the Madonna of the Township. But Mathosa said she was going to avoid the excesses that marked the life of her idol.
“You learn from the negative and the positive aspects,” she said.
2005 was a busy year for Mathosa: Her third album, Lioness, was released; she sang for Nelson Mandela at his 85th birthday and was a star performer at the launch of a continental-wide MTV Base Channel, which took place in Johannesburg.
This year, she was nominated for UK’s Music of Black Origin (MOBO) award.
Mathosa has recorded with Keith Sweat and performed with P Diddy, 2face Idiba and a host of Black singers across the world.
She has also participated in AIDS awareness campaigns and women rights issues.
She was putting finishing touches to her fourth album at the time of her death. Her father had died this August. She is survived by her mother and a sister.
Lebo Mathosa: South African artiste and actress: Born on July 17, 1977: Died on October 23, 2006.
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