South Africa needs the revival of the Dark City Sisters and show the new generation how to build a music movement and live a legacy.
This South African female vocal group that turned the world of Indigenous African music around was formed in 1958, and it is fitting to celebrate the “Queens” during Black History Month.
In the 1960s they recorded several hit records, helping usher in the Mbaqanga style of South African music later brought to global prominence by the Mahotella Queens.
The Sisters were formed by talent scout and producer Rupert Bopape at EMI South Africa. The group was named after Alexandra Township, known at the time as ‘Dark City’ due to its lack of street lighting. The four founding members were Joyce Mogatusi, Irene Mawela, Francisca Mngomezulu, Hilda Mogapi and Esther Khoza.
The ladies’ close harmonies were often combined with a single male vocalist.
And this at a time when most bands consisted of a female lead backed up by a group of men.
In their early days they were fronted by vocalist Jack Lerole and later by Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde. Their backing band was Alexandra Black Mambazo.
The new style of the Dark City Sisters proved very popular and they enjoyed several hits during the 1960s, also touring South Africa and neighbouring countries.
As time evolved the membership changed frequently and crossed over with other groups at points, with Francisca Mngomezulu and Caroline Kapentar also singing for the Mahotella Queens.
The one key and consistent link throughout the many membership changes is Joyce Mogatusi, who was a part of the very early line-up and has remained a constant throughout the Sisters’ career.
The second-longest serving member is Grace Moeketsi, who joined the Sisters in 1960.
The group dissolved in 1971 for a short time before reforming in the middle 1970s, primarily as a live performing group although contracted at various points to Gallo-Mavuthela, EMI and CCP.
The 1980s was a decade in which very few recordings of new material were made, with most of their time taken up by concert performances.
And by the 1990s and early 2000s – with the explosion of international interest in South African music, the Sisters, still led by Mogatusi, were fully immersed in concert appearances in the country and continued to make one-off recordings.
In July 2012, group leader Joyce Mogatusi died from heart failure at the age of 75. Mama Joyce had been a part of the Dark City Sisters for 53 years.
From the original liner notes: The sun has set. It’s party time and what can be more appropriate than “Startime with the Dark City Sisters”.
This group is undoubtedly the most popular African vocal combo in this country. They present on this, their first long-playing record, a selection of songs which will certainly set your feet dancing. Such old favourites have never sounded better. They have the tendency to display their vocal ability in songs, some with a featured soloist while the others accompany in the background, giving to the listeners only pleasing melodic sound. Herein the Dark City Sisters offer you an entertaining selection including the following: Sekusile – The song begins with the cocks crowing to encourage everyone to arise and start the new day. The lyrics being, “Wake up ladies and gentlemen another day has begun so let us prepare for work” Rose – The story of a man who was very badly disappointed in love and decided to pray to God that Rose (his ex-fiancé) would return to him. To his joy, his prayers were answered and they were married soon after.
Langa More – An evergreen which introduced a new form of dance, different from the Flying Jazz, in that the arm movement remained unchanged but the feet movement of the dancers became that of a sliding motion side by side in a movement reminiscent of the Charleston Change Jive Bafana – A follow-up of Langa More. This tune became a tremendous hit all over the Country.