With a career that spans over three decades, there aren’t many South Africans that haven’t at some point in their lives grooved along to the music of the Afropop ensemble band, Mango Groove. Whether it was “Special Star” on the radio at a braai or “Dance Some More” at a wedding, we’ve all got our own special memories of their popular, catchy songs. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights of their career and get to know more of what makes this band such an important part of South Africa’s creative flavour.
Mango Groove: who, what, where, how?
Founded in 1984, the year before the State of Emergency was declared, Mango Groove was one of the first bands to bring black and white musicians together to express musically what it meant to be South African. Determined not to let politics divide them, this 11-piece Afropop ensemble blends pop vibes with township music (can you dig that marabi and kwela influence?) into a consistently fresh, unbelievably irresistible sound that has stood the test of time.
Coming together in Johannesburg, three of the four original founding members belonged to a white punk band (can you believe it?) called Pett Frog. As fate would have it, these three middle-class white boys crossed paths with kwela musician “Big Voice” Jack Lerole at the Gallo Records offices and a couple of jamming sessions later, a new band was starting to find its sound. It wasn’t long before it found a name, too: Mango Groove. The band’s name comes from a little fun dinner-time word play – “Man, go groove!”.
Mango Groove’s iconic voice, Claire Johnstone
Claire Johnstone was a mere 17 years old when she met the band and played them some of her vocal recordings. A month or so later, Johnstone received a call asking her to join the band in rehearsing for a show that was scheduled for two nights later. Johnstone graduated from high school and went on to complete a Bachelor of Arts degree while on tour with the band. The first studio recording that featured Claire Johnstone with the Mango Groove band was “Two Hearts”, which was released as a single in 1985. The band’s first hit single came with “Move Up” in 1987, climbing to the number one spot in Capital Radio’s hitparade.
The band released their first studio album, which was self-titledMango Groove, featuring four songs that had previously released as singles – “Two Hearts”, “Love Is (the Hardest Part), “Do You Dream of Me?” and “Move Up”. This album stayed in the top 20 of Radio Orion’s national album chart for a year, peaking at the number two spot.
More Mango Groove band highlights
- Their debut album won three OKTV awards (an annual SABC spectacular that was judged by the media) in the categories of “Best Album”, “Best Arranger” and “Best Video”. Their album Hometalk won “Best Pop Album”, along with “Hit of the Year”.
- Their first overseas show was an anti-racism concert in Paris, 1990, performing for an audience of 200,000 people and they’ve toured extensively since – Australia, Hong Kong and Britain – even being accompanied by the Hong Kong Ballet with “Special Star”.
- In 1994 Mango Groove were invited to play for Nelson Mandela’s inauguration concert in front of a crowd of over 100,000 people, and it was an emotional day for the entire nation, as our first democratically elected president was sworn in.
- Their album “Eat a Mango” won a SAMA in the category “Best Adult Contemporary Performance: English” in 1996.
- They’ve recorded six studio albums, been featured on countless hit compilations and in 2015, Buzz South Africa featured “Special Star” on their list of the “100 Greatest South African Songs of All Time”.
So tell us! What’s your favourite Mango Groove song? Our top three would have to be:
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