Joe Mogotsi

Real Name:
Joe "Kolie" Mogotsi
Profile:
Joe Mogotsi, who has died of cancer aged 87, was the singer and lyricist of the Manhattan Brothers, the South African quartet that launched Miriam Makeba into the big time. He first trod the boards aged five or six, he said, when he featured in a concert by his bandleader father, David. Later, he joined a vocal group in his home town, Pimville, outside Johannesburg.

They played the black townships, but little of the takings filtered down to the singers. Mogotsi and three boys from his school broke away to form the Manhattan Brothers. The quartet was soon in demand over a wide area of the Transvaal. On leaving school in 1938, they widened their horizons, playing 32 villages on a tour of British Bechuanaland (now Botswana).

Their breakthrough came when Alec Delmont, in charge of recruitment for Gallo Africa, the African arm of the Decca record label, heard the brothers singing and tap dancing on a Johannesburg pavement and invited them to audition. The black vocalists and the white session musicians who barely acknowledged their existence were crammed into a stifling studio with a single microphone overhead. It went badly, but Delmont stuck with them. New releases were put on hold during the second world war as Gallo records were still pressed in London, but he found them work in Gallo's guitar factory.

After the war, many black South Africans moved to the cities, acquired sophisticated tastes and had just enough cash to buy a record player and the 78s to spin on them. Stylish and cool in an American way, the Manhattan Brothers were featured in Drum magazine sporting tuxedos and black bow ties, were heard on the radio, and seen in clubs. It was hard work – a typical show ran from 8pm to 4am so that the audience did not break the night curfew imposed on "natives".

The music, though not overtly political, was an expression of African joy and confidence. The songs were from American shows, gospel and spirituals, jazz and swing, but mixed with African choral and Zulu harmonies. The most enduring influence was the prewar American Mills Brothers, rooted in "barbershop" singing. Mogotsi composed most of the new material and also sang the leads. The band provided a platform for stars in the making – the trumpeter Hugh Masekela and the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim. But as they were paid a flat fee for recordings, there were no royalties. They never made a decent profit from the estimated 2-3m records sold by Gallo.

Yet Makeba, who owed her early success to the group, did benefit. In 1956 their song Lovely Lies, with vocals by Makeba, Mogotsi and Nathan Mdledle, became the first South African record in the US Billboard Top 100. Years later, doing well in the US, Makeba accepted royalties for her rendering of several Manhattan creations. Tackled at one point by Mogotsi, Makeba acknowledged the Brothers as composers and lyricists of some of their work, including her trademark Click Song, a traditional number adapted by Mogotsi.

In the 1950s the Manhattan Brothers were southern Africa's undisputed favourites. The Queen Mother heard them at the Rhodes centenary celebrations in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1953. By the end of the decade, however, record sales were sagging. The Brothers were rescued by the black musical King Kong, which swept triumphantly through South Africa, then ran for eight months in London in 1961 and toured Britain. Mdledle played the boxer King Kong, and Mogotsi his gangster rival, while Brothers Rufus Khoza and Ronnie Sehume had supporting roles.

The Brothers remained in London, but the euphoria was soon dissipated. One night, topping the bill in Birmingham, the quartet was dismayed to find the white support acts were paid more than them. In the age of the Beatles and the Stones, their offerings were no longer saleable. The quartet broke up, though Mogotsi never stopped composing. He performed rare gigs in London and landed small parts in films.

In 1971 he married the theatre impresario Pearl Connor. They co-wrote a book on the Manhattans, Mantindane: "He Who Survives" (2002). Mogotsi fought, unavailingly, for the release of 60 of the 200 surviving sides recorded by Gallo. The rest had been dumped. In 1990 the Manhattan Brothers were on stage again, harmonising at Wembley Stadium in front of Nelson Mandela, who had known them in the old days.

Pearl died in 2005. Mogotsi is survived by her children, Geraldine and Peter; and by his children, Hazel and Norah, from a previous relationship.

• Joe (Kolie) Mogotsi, singer and songwriter, born 24 April 1924; died 19 May 2011
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In Groups:
Variations:

Vocals

Joe Mogotsi - King Kong - All African Jazz Opera album art Todd Matshikiza / Pat Williams, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela Todd Matshikiza / Pat Williams, Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela - King Kong - All African Jazz Opera (Album) Gallotone South Africa 1961 Sell This Version

Writing & Arrangement

05-19762-4, 05-19. 762-4 Joe Mogotsi - Wanna Do My Thing / Wild River album art Matata Matata - Wanna Do My Thing / Wild River(7", Single) President Records, President Records 05-19762-4, 05-19. 762-4 Netherlands 1972 Sell This Version
Joe Mogotsi - Air Fiesta album art Matata Matata - Air Fiesta (Album) President Records UK 1972 Sell This Version
BLOWCD 03 Joe Mogotsi - Afro Beat - Hard African Funk Afro Jazz And Afro Beat album art Various Wanna Do My Thing (as Mogotsi) Various - Afro Beat - Hard African Funk Afro Jazz And Afro Beat(CD, Album, Comp) Blow BLOWCD 03 UK 2002 Sell This Version
CDCHD 1302 Joe Mogotsi - The London American Label Year By Year: 1963 album art Various The Click Song (as Joseph Mogotsi) Various - The London American Label Year By Year: 1963(CD, Comp) Ace CDCHD 1302 UK 2011 Sell This Version
WRASS300 Joe Mogotsi - Say Africa album art Vusi Mahlasela Woza (as J. Mogotsi) Vusi Mahlasela - Say Africa(CD, Album) Wrasse Records, ATO Records WRASS300 UK 2011 Sell This Version
B001966102 Joe Mogotsi - Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) album art Various Jikela Emaweni and 1 more… Various - Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)(CD, Album, Comp) Decca B001966102 Canada 2013 Sell This Version
STEP 2014 002 Joe Mogotsi - Aangenaam Klassiek 2014 album art Various The Click Song (as J. Mogotsi) Various - Aangenaam Klassiek 2014(3xCD, Comp) STEP (Stichting Entertainmentretail Promotion) STEP 2014 002 Netherlands 2014 Sell This Version
Retro D985 Joe Mogotsi - Wanna Do My Thing The Complete President Recordings album art Matata Matata - Wanna Do My Thing The Complete President Recordings(2xCD, Comp) RPM Records (2) Retro D985 UK 2017 Sell This Version

Production

Joe Mogotsi - Air Fiesta album art Matata Matata - Air Fiesta (Album) President Records UK 1972 Sell This Version
Joe Mogotsi - Wanna Do My Thing album art Matata Air Fiesta* Matata Air Fiesta* - Wanna Do My Thing (Single) President Records UK 1972 Sell This Version
Joe Mogotsi - I Feel Funky album art Matata (Air-Fiesta)* Matata (Air-Fiesta)* - I Feel Funky (Single) President Records UK 1973 Sell This Version
Joe Mogotsi - I Need Somebody album art Matata Matata - I Need Somebody (Single) President Records UK 1973 Sell This Version
Joe Mogotsi - Independence album art Matata Matata - Independence (Album) President Records Ghana 1974 Sell This Version
Joe Mogotsi - Best Of Matata album art Matata Matata - Best Of Matata (Comp) Soul Posters France 1974 Sell This Version
Joe Mogotsi - Return To You / Something In Mind album art Matata Matata - Return To You / Something In Mind President Records UK 1974 Sell This Version
Joe Mogotsi - Good Good Understanding / Gimme Some Lovin' album art Matata Matata - Good Good Understanding / Gimme Some Lovin' (Single) President Records UK 1975 Sell This Version
PT 12 588 Joe Mogotsi - I Feel Funky album art Matata Matata - I Feel Funky(12", Ltd) President Records PT 12 588 UK 1990 Sell This Version
PCOM 1133 Joe Mogotsi - Wild River album art Matata Matata - Wild River(CD, Comp) President Records PCOM 1133 UK 1994 Sell This Version
PCOM 1134 Joe Mogotsi - Feelin' Funky album art Matata Matata - Feelin' Funky(CD, Comp) President Records PCOM 1134 UK 1994 Sell This Version
HURTLP016 Joe Mogotsi - Africafunk: The Original Sound Of 1970s Funky Africa album art Various Talkin' Talkin' Various - Africafunk: The Original Sound Of 1970s Funky Africa(2xLP, Comp) Harmless HURTLP016 UK 1998 Sell This Version
BLOWCD 03 Joe Mogotsi - Afro Beat - Hard African Funk Afro Jazz And Afro Beat album art Various Wanna Do My Thing (as Mogotsi) Various - Afro Beat - Hard African Funk Afro Jazz And Afro Beat(CD, Album, Comp) Blow BLOWCD 03 UK 2002 Sell This Version
Retro D985 Joe Mogotsi - Wanna Do My Thing The Complete President Recordings album art Matata Matata - Wanna Do My Thing The Complete President Recordings(2xCD, Comp) RPM Records (2) Retro D985 UK 2017 Sell This Version

Visual

Joe Mogotsi - Air Fiesta album art Matata Matata - Air Fiesta (Album) President Records UK 1972 Sell This Version