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Dorothy Masuka (1935 - )

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Dorothy Masuka (1935 - ) Awarded for:
Excellent achievement in and contribution to music composition and performance.

Profile of Dorothy Masuka

Dorothy Masuka was born in 1935 in Zimbabwe. At the age of 12 her family emigrated to South Africa. Her talent for singing was first noticed when she was a student at St. Thomas Catholic Boarding School in Johannesburg.

Despite the disapproval of her parents, Masuka left school at the tender age of 16 to pursue her dream of becoming a professional singer. Her talent was soon recognised and she was snapped up to sign a record deal by Troubadour. Masuka was soon being compared to Dolly Rathebe, who was already a well known singer. She was invited to join Philemon Mogotsi's African Ink Spots in Durban, with whom she performed for a while. Later she left for Zimbabwe, where she teamed up with the Golden Rhythm Crooners.

Masuka's parents, realising the determination of their daughter to perform on stage, relented and they reconciled with her. This support gave Masuka the foundation and strength to apply her passion and talent, which ultimately saw her becoming al eading singer-songwriter on the continent in a career spanning more than five decades.

Dorothy Masuka's great promise as a singer and songwriter began to show when she penned and recorded the tune Hamba Nontsokolo. The song was among the most popular in the 1950s. Masuka began to tour with The Harlem Swingsters and Dolly Rathebe in the mid-1950s.

Masuka endeared herself to a wide audience from the start of her career through her provocative and entertaining compositions that riled the apartheid regime. In 1961, the apartheid Special Branch seized the master recordings of her composition Lumumba, a song which paid tribute to Patrice Lumumba, the great liberation hero and first democratically elected President of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Masuka was not deterred and in the same year went on to pen and record Dr. Malan, a song about the apartheid laws of the Nationalist Party, which too was seized and banned.

Seeing the writing on the wall, Masuka went into exile and spent time in Malawi and Tanzania, where she campaigned for the liberation of African people through her music and wrote and performed her most memorable tunes. These include the famous and widely recorded Pata Pata, Khawuleza, Kulala and Into Yam. Masuka's greatest accolades were perhaps to have had many of her songs recorded by contemporary artists such as Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. She is credited as the inspiration for many female singers on the continent.

Masuka proved that she would never be cowed by the souldestroying apartheid regime when she re-emerged in 2001 to write and record a new album Magumede. This impressive and artistic body of art work was soon followed by the album Mzilikazi, which paid tribute to one of King Shaka's greatest warriors who founded the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe and South Africa. Masuka recently released yet another album called Lendaba.

Dorothy Masuka, the consummate artist, refined composer and poetic songwriter, has made a major contribution to the corpus of popular songs on the continent. Over more than half a century, she has served as the inspiration for scores of emerging singers and contributed significantly in combating the apartheid regime and ideology through her cultural work. She remains a true icon of African culture and song.

Masuka lives in Yeoville, Johannesburg. She continues to record and perform locally and abroad. She was inducted into the American Hall of Fame in 2002.