Sam Tshabalala

Article Bio Works Projects
additional name:
Sabeka, Malopoets
Music (Afro-pop, mbaqanga, township jive)
Africa, Southern, Europe, Western
South Africa, France
Johannesburg, Paris
created on:
May 19, 2003
last changed on:
Please note: This page has not been updated since February 9, 2010. We decided to keep it online because we think the information is still valuable.
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Sam Tshabalala - a pan-african musician with South

Sam Tshabala counts as being one of the most important South African composers. His career began at the end of the 70s with the Malopoets, whose performances aroused furore both in their homeland and in France and America. During a European tour in 1989 Sam Tshabalala decided to go into exile in Paris, where in 1993, together with other top musicians from the African music-scene, he founded his band Sabeka, which blends South African township music with elements of funk, reggae and jazz, and blends warm, tempting African melodies with infectious funk-jazz.
Sam Tshabalala founded the Malopoets in 1978 in Johannesburg with five other young musicians from Soweto, Mamelodi and Durban. All members of the band were at that time in their twenties, and together they were received enthusiastically. This was due not only to the music but also to the texts in Zulu, Sotho, Shangaan and other South African tribal languages. At this time most South African musicians sang either in English or in their own tribal languages, and texts which dealt with the general political situation were rare, due to the prevalent censorship.

The Malopoets performed in universities and theatres and were the first black group allowed to perform in the famous Market Theatre in Johannesburg. In 1980 they came into contact with the French producer Martin Meissonier, who was working with King Sunny Ade and Fela Kuti. This contact gave rise in 1983 to concerts for the first time at festivals in France and to several appearances in Britain. After a stay in Africa, the group went on their first big French tour with Toure Kunda in 1984 and recorded their first album Malopoets (EMI) with Johnny Clegg´s producer. In 1985 their first tour of the USA followed. This was the first time that any black South African band had gone on tour in the USA without its members then being deprived of their nationality. At this time the Malopoets also took part with Little Stevens in the project Sun City - Artists Against Apartheid, which united nearly all the big names of the international rock, pop and jazz world from Bono to Miles Davis.

Once South Africa had declared a state of emergency Sam Tshabalala decided to stay in Paris, whereas for family reasons other members of the group returned to South Africa. Nonetheless recordings could still be made for the album Life is for Living (Virgin). In 1989 the promotion tour for this album turned out to be also the Malopoets farewell tour. After the band had broken up, Sam Tshabalala stayed in Paris and worked as a percussionist, actor and singer in international theatrical projects.

In 1993 Sam Tshabalala then started his own project Sabeka. This band brought together the best musicians of the Parisian afro-scene - musicians who otherwise appeared with WES, Miriam Makeba, Manu Dibango and Papa Wemba. Since no other members of the group came from South Africa, Sam Tshabalala was naturally bound to open up, and Sabeka´s music had a pan-african quality, though texts continued to be sung in Shangaan, Zulu, Sotho and English. As regards the music, the South African Mbaganga roots were watered with funk, jazz and reggae. Already in its first year, 1993, the band was invited to perform in the theatre Romain Rolland to welcome Nelson Mandela. There followed many appearances and tours, since 1997 also in Germany, as for instance at Expo 2000. Sabeka´s first album Khanyisa appeared in 1996, and a second album Communication is due to appear in November 2001.
Author: Richard Berkowski  


While still in his twenties, Sam Tshabalala founded the group Malopoets in Johannesburg in 1978. This group became South Africa´s leading music export together with Miriam Makeba, but after successful tours in the 80s in France, Britain and America, Sam Tshabalala decided to remain in Paris in exile. Though split up between France, Switzerland and South Africa, the members of the Malopoets still performed together up to their farewell tour in 1989. Sam Tshabalala then worked in Paris as a musician and actor in international theatrical projects and founded in 1993 his present band Sabeka with top musicians from the African music scene in Paris. Sabeka has since become internationally well known, and in November 2001 its newest album Communication is due to appear.



Published Audio,
Tropical (Sony Music)

Sun City - Artists Against Apartheid

Published Audio,
(project from Little Stevens)


Published Audio,
Heaven & E

Sabeka: Communication

Published Audio,

Sabeka: Khanyisa

Published Audio,

Malopoets: Life is for Living

Published Audio,

Album Malopoets

Published Audio,


This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the partner institutions.

Jazz across the border

(21 June 91 - 15 July 01)