Thembisa’s Hot Soul Singers were formed in 1975 by promoter and producer Sam “Jiza Jiza” Mthembu. In the early years the trio was called the Thembisa Happy Queens and consisted of sisters Ntombifuthi and Nombuso Mabaso and Lindiwe Ndlovu. The trio would start out playing Jive, Zulu Disco and other popular sounds of the 70s . In 1979 they became the Hot Soul Singers and would begin a career in the emerging Disco scene which their group name was now more fitting for.
Their first single under the new name was a tribute to their producer Sam, and their first album “Together” would come 2 years later in 1981. It contained their Lamont Dozier rip off from a year earlier, and biggest hit to date “ Give Me My Love Back” which was playing in jukeboxes across the country. At this time the Hot Soul Singers were also gaining popularity due to their demand as an opening act for American groups. Sam’s ongoing pursuit to be a successful promoter also helped to ensure they were always in the headlines and playing shows. It would be in 1983 that the group would temporarily step away from a major label and go onto record their first Maxi single with the independent Raintree Records new Lyncell Imprint.
Like most places in the world the early 80s was a fast changing time in music for South Africa. Although the Maxi had a disco standard for years in other parts of the world it had only recently been popularized in South Africa. Thanks to the Brenda and the Big Dudes smash, Weekend Special, the maxi took over as the preferred format for pop music, replacing the cheaper but time restricting 7” single. Singles were being pushed to the limits in the early 80’s with running times of 4+ minutes a sides by some labels. The Maxi allowed for groups to extend their grooves onto a full side and later album art containing smiling musicians infant of cheesy backdrops became the norm. Synthesizers had been used in pop music for years already but the DX7 wouldn’t land in the country for another year. Drum machines were being used but had yet to fully replace live drummers like would happen in the years to come. The recording of this new single would require a full band resulting in it being one of the gems of the crossover period before the complete midi takeover. Durban’s Graham Handley was recording some of the best upcoming Disco sounds for labels like Heads Music and groups like Kabasa and Masike Mohapi and was tasked as engineer. Other known musicians in the session would be Jimmy Mgwandi from the group Image, who’s signature bass playing can be heard on both songs. A young Daniel Phakoe aka “sox” was also present and took care of the male parts of the vocal line. Both musicians have writing credits along with lead singer Nombuso. Other possibilities of musicians would be Thami Mduli aka Professor Rhythm who had been with the group since their early days as well as a young Chicco who was best friends with Jimmy at the time.
The single, which was packaged in a customized but simple company disco sleeve, went on to do quite well. Less than a year later they would feature on a track with Sunset which would lead to them singing with Sounds of Soweto records label. The group would enjoy the growing fame when tragedy struck in 1984. On their way to a show in Mpumalanga they were involved in a car accident which took the life of Nombuso and left her husband Sam with a leg injury he limps with to this day. Upon recovering Sam would organize a tribute concert at Soweto’s Jabulani Amphitheatre. Even though the tragedy left the group broken and without a member the band went back to work to record their second full length album. They worked with Mac Mathunjwa who had written Nombuso’s favourite song “Going Crazy”. This album would be released with two different names and covers. One took the former singer’s favourite song as the album name and used a photo consisting of all three girls where the other released under the name “ A Tribute” and would only have the remaining members on the cover.
Although the tragedy never halted the group, moving forward the trio of singers would see a few members change. Lindiwe would leave to join Freeway and then become Linda “Babe” Majika so by the time they were ready to record in1986, now with Teal records, the only original member was Ntombifuthi. She would also shortly leave the group and provide backing vocals to other artists including her old band mate Linda. The Hot Soul Singers would be kept alive by Jiza Jiza and go on to record 5 more albums before calling it quits in 1990 after a successful 15 year career. Today the only core member left is Sam Mthembu who still lives in Thembisa and is occasionally promoting live events. Even though he did produce a handful of artists back in the 70s, his most significant additions to the music industry were the Hot Soul Singers and his event promotions, which is what he is best known for and will most likely be the legacy of his career.