Busi Mhlongo


AT the time of typing this, the number of COVID-19 deaths in South Africa stands at 15 168. Fatalities, especially when expressed in big numbers can simply go over one’s head as just statistics. But even one death hits hard when you lose someone you love.

I lost my brother, Thulani Ntiwane two months ago and this writing is no way about the virus. But a way of healing and honouring my brother who was by far the biggest influence in my life.

So while awaiting a match between Thulani’s beloved Real Madrid taking on Alavés in a La Liga game, we watched a recorded episode from season five of Black-ish. Aptly titled “Black History Month” the arch in which Octavia Spencer makes a special appearance, where her character pays homage to black persons she believes should never be forgotten. It’s only right I jot this, so that Thulani is never forgotten in the jam of all these numbers.

It is said that influence is when you’re not the one talking, and yet your words fill the room. The influence my brother had on me was just that.

As his name suggests, he was a quiet, reserved and nonchalant lanky dude who understood the power of being an African, who loved music, appreciated sport and who had reverence for knowledge.


Thulani would always say that I’m his student, to which I’d reluctantly (’cause of pride) admit. My brother’s music collection, over a thousand discs, was like a radio station’s playlist. A childhood friend of his would always joke that Thulani should be a music producer or a DJ.

In his collection you will find The Legendary Roots Crew, Khabzela’s Mekonko, Busi Mhlongo, Incognito, Mfaz’Omnyama, Maxwell, Masibuyele Kujehova, Brothers Of Peace, Gang Starr, Bill Withers, Hotstix, Lenny Kravitz, DJ FRESH, and so on and so on.

In the mid-90s my Thulani appeared in the Tembisan newspaper, after winning a music quiz that ran in the local publication. He walked away with 2PAC’s All Eyez On Me double-disc.

Thulani was a big advocate for buying original albums. He enjoyed tagging all of his CD covers with the trademark ‘Thulas’…this too was etched on me because, when I started buying CDs, I vividly remember scribbling ‘Bongs’ on my Like Water For Chocolate album cover. He shared music with me, this is why I enjoying doing the same for others today.

I grew up listening to a lot of music, hence I never had any problems even in my career when I was presented with the opportunity to interview great artists such as Musiq Soulchild, Ray Phiri, Mary J Blige or Raphael Saadique- I’d always find confidence in the knowledge my brother instilled in me. I could sense his pride-nothing egotistical, but happy that a seed he planted had sprouted in ways he also couldn’t fathom.


Thulani was the one who showed me Joburg and how to carry myself in the big city. It must’ve been around 2004 when I first went to Carlton Centre, where we took that long and seemingly unending walk on Small Street. He bought me lunch at legendary boxer Baby Jake Matlala’s restaurant while we waited for the movie Troy to start-also my first time at the cinema.

Although I later grew to know the city for myself, it was Thulani who literally held my hand when I first came to eGoli.


I remember the days when the YFM studios were still in Rosebank, at the mall. I will never forget the feeling of being inside the Y Store-it felt like I was right inside their studios. He somehow knew it would interest me.From then on, the love for journalism, albeit broadcast journalism, began.

It was Thulani who got me reading newspapers every day. He got a subscription for the paper, and even after he moved out of home, he never stopped the paper from being delivered. Making sure that I carry on reading and engaging with the world around me.


This happened through music, books and in conversation. I was listening to the Wolves interlude on the Dead Prez Let’s Get Free album recently and it hit me, that at 10/11 years-old I was listening and reciting lyrics about imperialism and how evil the white man is without real comprehension of what was being said.

I remember when I told him that we’re reading Animal Farm in high school. His strong interest in the book (which he later borrowed) grew my interest.

I’ve read Steve Biko’s I Write What I Like a couple of times. I was first intrigued by the title, but more fascinated that my brother was reading such content. I went in and gobbled me some Biko and nothing was the same.

I doubt Tha Bravado, which has a strong voice in telling stories that are for Bantus by Bantus and inspired by Bantus, if it weren’t for Thulani.


It’s very normal to support the team your dad or your older brother supported. My dad was a Kaizer Chiefs fan and so is my eldest brother. But I became an Orlando Pirate fan and a Gooner because I grew up watching Thulani cheer on Amabhakaniya and Arsenal.

He taught me how to watch the game of soccer. I remember watching that FIFA 2002 World Cup Semi-final between England and Brazil. Sport really brought us together.

I’m the rugby guy in the fam and he played a bit of cricket and soccer . We both had a strong love for sport, hence we spent his last moments watching a Real Madrid game. Whenever we’d see each other we would catch up on what’s happening, on and off the field.

Till we meet again bro,

Your faithful student.

Thulani Ntiwane is survived by his wife and four kids. His mother, two brothers a sister and two nieces. He was 43 years-old.


LAST week I randomly posted on Facebook that it would’ve been dope to hang out with Busi Mhlongo. I really don’t know where this longing for her presence came from, but I missed the Queen of modern Zulu music.

This is possibly because I’ve become more Pan-African in the last five years and  I’ve grown to appreciate Mhlongo’s work more as a young black man living in a modern world. She was conscious and proud of her Africaness, and wanted to share that with the rest of the world. Like other young black South Africans today, I’m very proud and mindful of who I am and I have an urge to share my story with the rest of the world, in my own words. I feel like that’s why I have this connection to her.

Her adlibs would make any of these modern rappers jealous.

I unfortunately never had the opportunity to meet her nor see her live in performance. Today marks eight years since the passing of this giant.

“The industry will always miss how Busi Mhlongo made traditional Zulu music sound so cool and so global. A traditional, urban, global and true Kasi woman who conquered the world with her twist of Zulu music, appropriately coined ‘Urban Zulu’,” says Native Rhythms boss Sipho Sithole speaking to Tha Bravado.

With a career that spanned over 40 years, Mhlongo was ahead of her time. Her music had elements of Jazz, Funk, Mbaqanga, Maskandi, Marabi and traditional Zulu music and more. Her vocal dexterity was brilliant. You can tell when someone enjoys what they do and you it’s clear that she enjoyed to sing-it was a catharsis for her which healed those who got to hear her belt out a song. Her sincerity and vulnerability was a mainstay in her music. I remember as a young boy, first hearing Yise Wabantwana and just feeling her pain, although I couldn’t comprehend what the song meant at the time. Sithole says what made her special was

“Her stage presence, her artistic expression, her pose on stage, her gaze and how she occupied and owned the stage whilst rendering hair-raising performance unparalleled.”

In 2007 the SABC hosted the Vuka Sizwe Benefit Concert, which was to honour Mhlongo who was battling breast cancer. Sithole was assigned by then SABC head, Adv Dali Mpofu to lead the project. This meant spending some time with the great artist.

“Busi Mhlongo was very special and her ability to make everyone feel so special as well was her greatest strength. There was that sisterly or motherly disposition about her that made everyone around her feel so connected to her. She had an amazing personality. She displayed a strong character even in times when you could see that she was really sick. She never wanted people to see how sick and weak she was.”

Her strength and colourful personality was palpable in her music. Just listen to Yapheli’mali Yami, where she laments that her lover doesn’t respond to her letters. I’ve always found the intro of the song humorous, where she talks over the guitar strings saying that Yokugcina le ncwadi practically giving her lover a last chance to respond.

Her adlibs would make any of these modern rappers jealous. Culoe De Song captured them perfectly in the House remix of We Baba. It is for this reason that Sithole says her name and music will never vanish into the archives because young people connect to her and her music heavily.

“She continues to influence established and emerging artists today. Most artist still list Busi Mhlongo as a major influence in their career, whether one is talking about Thandiswa Mazwai, Xolisa Dlamini, Siphokazi, Simphiwe Dana, Zoë Modiga, Khululiwe Sithole, just to mention a few.”

She passed away at the age of 62 in 2010.

“I had been prepared for her eventual transition to the other world, having seen her battling with cancer. I knew there and then that she was rested and united with her Creator and her ancestors,” says Sithole.

I think there’s a connection to her passing away in South Africa’s Youth month, just a day before the historic holiday. She was young at heart and today’s young people connect to her music because she showed the world that African culture is cool- she never conformed nor displayed an inferiority complex as a black woman. She had so much bravado.

It certainly would’ve been dope to hang out with Busisiwe Victoria Mhlongo.

Image source: Medium

Today marks eight years since the world lost the Queen of modern Zulu music. Here are five of her best songs selected by Khulisile Nkhushubana.

1. Uganga nge Ngane (Album: UrbanZulu) “uyisonka elinjani…lishela nge mali” roughly translated this means what kind of player are you, if you use your money to get women.  This line has stuck with me from the first time I heard the song because it was the first time I heard a truly, tribally, African women questioning the unprogressive behaviours of man. Questioning patriarchy with calm and the sternest of Table Mountain, with prophetic undertones.

2. Yehlisani’umoya Ma-Afrika (Album: UrbanZulu) “kodwa kade madoda…si bulalana sodwa…wa phele laphi unembeza…sibulalana sodwa”  I do not believe the construct of Pan-Africanism will be operationalized in my life time. Should it ever happen, Africans will have to stop killing Africans, plain and simple. In this joint you can hear the pain in Mam’ Busi’s voice, as she begs us to lower our anger and stop the ridiculousness of black on black violence.

3. Sonke Siyamangala (Album: Freedom) – for me, there are very few things in this world which are more beautiful than the sincere proclamation of love through an African voice. Growing up in an environment where public displays of affection are taboo, it blew my mind to hear Mam’ Busi expressing her love for a man in Zulu, which is a culture were the objectification of women occurs far more often than the objectification of man. This joint clearly made me understand that desire is bidirectional in the dichotomy of heterosexual romantic relations.

Listen to Sonke Siyamangale

4. Yapheli’mali Yami  (Album: UrbanZulu) – I smile when hear this joint, the fact women have been crying about men not returning there massages from day one is just funny to me. Before Whatsapp, Mixit, cell phones and telephones, there was hand written letters which had to be sent via the post office for a price.  Mam’ Busi is scolding her lover in this joint, shouting at him that she has finished her money writing to him why does he not answer. The more things change the more they stay the same.

Listen to Yapheli’mali Yami

5. Tingi Tingi (Album: Babhemu) – Women generally value security above most things, Mam’Busi was no different.  In this joint she makes it clear that her fellow workers must leave her money alone and keep it for her when she is not around to collect it. This is another humorous joint because as fans we often idolize our favourite artist thinking that they have transcended their humanity.  Mam’ Busi always made it clear that she was just human from day one, always honestly sharing her vulnerabilities in her music. Which makes most of people feel like they knew her personally even if they didn’t.

What are some of your favourite songs by Busi Mhlongo?

Image source: Medium

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