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When proprietor Joe Rubino describes tonight's show as the most musically significant he has ever brought to Nietzsche's, 248 Allen St., he's not kidding. Gracing the stage in his back room will be the people who invented mbaqanga, the South African township jive popularized in 1986 by Paul Simon's "Graceland" album. They're Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens.

Mahlathini, whose adopted name means "the lion of Soweto," started out as an impassioned dancer and then became known for his powerful rasping groan, which has been compared to blues singer Howlin' Wolf. Providing contrast are the Mahotella Queens, a trio whose name is a variation of the word "motel" and whose slick harmonies and dance routines have earned them the title of the Supremes of South Africa. During the darkest days of apartheid in the '60s, Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens were South Africa's top band, with a homeland popularity on a scale of the Beatles. That didn't stop the Queens from going into retirement in the '70s to raise families. They rejoined Mahlathini five years ago and made a triumphal debut in the United States last year. Their show tonight comes halfway through a new two-month tour of North America. En route to the Mariposa Folk Festival outside Toronto, they're on a tight schedule, Rubino reports. As a result, they'll go on stage at 11 o'clock sharp. -- Dale Anderson

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