Hilda Tloubatla (1942)

The Order of Ikhamanga in Bronze for outstanding contributions in traditional music

Hilda Tloubatla was born in 1942 in Payneville, Springs, where she spent her early years, passing Standard 6 at St Andrews School before she and her family were forced to move to Kwa-Thema Township as a result of the Group Areas Act.

Young Hilda was the youngest and most talented of three music-loving sisters, and her musical career was born when she began to sing in her church choir and also at dances and jam sessions. In 1964, by then already a veteran vocalist, she was recruited into the Mahotella Queens as a lead singer, her voice an integral strand of the unique sound that was to become known as “mbaqanga”.

Unlike the other Mahotella Queens, she did not postpone marriage and children. In 1968, as the popularity of Simon “Mahlathini” Nkabinde and the Mahotella Queens continued to soar, she married and had three children, all daughters.

When the Mahotella Queens re-formed in 1984 after a break of almost a decade, Tloubatla was one of the three originals – the others being Nomsomi Mildred Mangxola and Nobesuthu Gertrude Mbadu – at its core.

Pop music had changed drastically in their absence, with the emphasis changing to soul and disco music. There was a swing back to the older township styles, however; and the Mahotella Queens made the most of the opportunity to take their ageless classical sound to new heights.

Re-united with their old comrades Mahlathini and composer-conductor-musician West Nkosi and his band, they set off on a long series of local and international tours and produced a series of hit records, staying close to their special brand of spell-binding music. From being a top South African attraction, they went on to capture the hearts of the world.

Three of the great names in the group - Simon Nkabinde, West Nkosi and guitarist Marks Mankwane – died on the eve of the new millennium. After a period of deep mourning, the Queens formed a new band and set off on the next stage of their march into posterity, more than 40 years after they had first delighted their first audience in Johannesburg 's townships.

Hilda Tloubatla's life has been one of light and shadow, with outstanding personal triumphs darkened by periods of personal sadness and bitterness. But through it all runs the golden thread of her voice and her great musical talent that have truly blessed her and the lives of those around her.