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GOINGS ON / SANTA BARBARA : Mahlathini and Mahotella Queens Back With Mbaqanga Sound, Aided by Simon

April 15, 1993|LEO SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Long before Paul Simon's "Graceland" album focused attention on African pop music, Simon (Mahlathini) Nkabinde and the Mahotella Queens began spreading the word.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the union of the guttural Mahlathini, the all-female harmonizing Queens, and the backup Mokhona Tsohle Band. Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens are currently in the American phase of an international tour. They'll be making a stop at UC Santa Barbara's Campbell Hall on Sunday night.

Through the '60s, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens established a form of music they called mbaqanga , a Zulu term meaning "mixture."

"We took old, old traditional songs and updated them," said Marks Mankwane, lead guitarist and a founding member of the group. "We used some of the songs our great-grandfathers and -mothers used to sing. Some of them are folk songs, but they were raw songs. Some of them used only drums, wild drums."

Mankwane said the mbaqanga style combines various African rhythms with a touch of Western drumming. "The beat is 1-2-3-4, a beat that everyone uses. That's the Western style," he said. "The beat is right for the people. They can dance to it everywhere, all over the world."

And the lyrics, he said, provide a strong cultural message.

In the early 1970s the various Queens got married and the group struggled to stay together. About 1980, the group's popularity took a downturn with the success of disco and other Western styles in South Africa. In 1983, the original Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens produced a flop album.

Then, in 1986, came Simon's "Graceland," featuring the music of the band Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Interest in African music soared.

Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens went through some in-house problems shortly after "Graceland."

The group's manager, seeing a potential commercial bonanza, released a Westernized version of a tape, unknown to Mahlathini and the rest. The manager was fired and the band went back to the studio in 1990 to do more of its original work.

Mankwane said the music is as popular now as it ever was. "The music is very pushy. It makes one want to keep dancing," he said. "You can never just sit and watch. There's a force behind it."

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It's rare to find a musical ensemble that performs an Indian-folk-Spanish-South American style of music, but that's the specialty of Hesperus, performing tonight at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Hesperus is the ensemble-in-residence at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

The group's repertory developed out of the 17th-Century Spanish colonization of Central and South America. The concert will begin at 7:30 p.m. General admission is $5. The museum is at 1130 State St. For more information call 963-4364, Ext. 336.

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Elmar Oliveira, the first American violinist to win the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition Gold Medal, will be the guest soloist Saturday and Sunday when the Santa Barbara Symphony performs at the Arlington Theater.

Oliveira will be featured on Prokofiev's Violin Concerto No. 2. The balance of the program will include Ives' "The Unanswered Question" and Brahms' Symphony No. 4. Saturday's concert will begin at 8 p.m., Sunday's at 3 p.m. Tickets range from $15 to $32 on Saturday and $13 to $24 on Sunday. Call 965-6596.

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They rank up there with Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, even Mork and Mindy, in the annals of comedy duos. We're talking about Ren and Stimpy, the animated characters who have made it to the big time via MTV and Nickelodeon.

On Sunday, the excitable chihuahua (Ren), and the not-so-smart cat (Stimpy) will visit the Comics on Parade store in Santa Barbara from noon to 6 p.m.

The characters will be joined by Mike Kazaleh, artist for "The Ren & Stimpy Show" comic book, who will sign autographs from 3 to 6 p.m. A raffle/auction to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation will follow the autograph signing. Comics on Parade is at 933 State St. For more information call 965-2400.

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Funny, it doesn't look a year over 206. But it's true. Santa Barbara will turn 211 this year.

And the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation plans to celebrate with a "Los Descendientes Walk Into History."

On Sunday beginning at 11:30 a.m., descendants of original settlers will make their way from Santa Barbara Junior High School to the Presidio Chapel, which was founded on April 21, 1782. Festivities at the Presidio will include 18th-Century Spanish military drills and songs of early California.

Santa Barbara Junior High is at 721 E. Cota St. The descendants will travel along Quarantina and Canon Perdido streets to the Presidio.

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Helsinki-born musician Merja Laukontaus Soria will perform traditional and contemporary Finnish music Wednesday night at UCSB's MultiCultural Center.

Soria, a vocalist, accordionist and kantele player, studied at the Conservatory of Helsinki, the University of Helsinki and the Sibelius Academy. The concert will begin at 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information call 893-8411.

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