Artist Spotlight: Letta Mbulu

This artist spotlight originally posted January 18, 2019 on the dearly missed Global Elite Music Radio Podcast Supershow site.


One of the joys of doing a project like the Global Elite Music Radio Podcast Supershow is discovering new artists we didn’t yet know we loved.

We featured Letta’ Mbulu’s track “Kukuchi” on Episode 32 of our very own podcast. We were so smitten with Mbulu’s music that we wanted to give you, the fine people of the Internet, more Mbulu. So we put together an hour-long mix of some of our current favorite tracks.

If you don’t yet know Mbulu, allow us to introduce you.

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Letta Mbulu (pronounced "let-ah" "em-boo-loo") was born in Soweto, South Africa in 1942 and remains a towering figure in South African music. Doug Payne says in his online biography of Mbulu:

Still in her teens, Letta began touring outside of Africa with the musical "King Kong," which ran for a year in England following a highly successful two-year run in South Africa. When the tour ended, she returned to South Africa but soon the policies of Apartheid were to force her to leave her native land for the U.S.A.

She arrived in the United States in 1965 and quickly befriended such fellow South African exiles in New York City as Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa - all alumni of the "King Kong" musical. Performances at New York's famed Village Gate club began to attract attention to her talents, particularly from jazz legend Cannonball Adderley, who invited her to tour with him (which she did throughout the remainder of the decade). 

To put Mbulu’s career and influence into perspective, Strange Sounds From Beyond says:

the South African vocalist released her first LP in the same year The Beatles released The White Album. She is the towering figure of South African singing – the proud matriarch of a strange, soulful, synth-powered hybrid of US and South-African influences. Along with the 12 LPs carrying her own name, she’s worked with jazz saxophonist Cannonball Adderley, calypso icon Harry Belafonte, and even Michael Jackson on “Liberian Girl”.

According to South African History, Mbulu was also an accomplished actress who appeared “in the film Roots for which she received an Emmy award. Her other screen appearances include A Warm December with Sidney Pottier and The Colour Purple. She is also a founding member of the South African Artists United (SAAU) an organisation which was established in 1986.”

Allmusic quotes Quincy Jones as saying: "Mbulu is the roots lady, projecting a sophistication and warmth which stirs hope for attaining pure love, beauty, and unity in the world."

If you don’t know her yet, it is our pleasure to introduce you to the music of Letta Mbulu. If you already know her, please enjoy this mix and we’d love to hear your favorite tracks.


  1. Hareje *

  2. Kukuchi #

  3. Noma Themba *

  4. Jigijela (Don't Throw Stones) @

  5. Zimkile *

  6. I Need Your Love @

  7. Mamami #

  8. Aredze ^

  9. Afro Texas *

  10. Ade #

  11. Qonqoza (Knock) @

  12. Kube *

  13. Gumba-Gumba #

  14. Macongo @

  15. Olu Ati Ayo #

  16. Melodi (Sounds of Home) @

  17. Never Leave You *

Though there are many terrific albums by Letta Mbulu, for this mix, I focused on the following four albums (use the symbols to see which song is found on each album):

@ Letta (Chisa, 1970)

* Naturally (Fantasy, 1972)

^ I’ll Never Be The Same (1973)

# Letta Mbulu Sings/Free Soul (2005)