Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
▪ 2000

      The South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo were once again present in full force in 1999, spreading their message of unity and harmony through their music while at the same time raising the public's awareness of South African culture. During the year they toured around the world; released their latest album, In Harmony, featuring the pop song “Ain't No Sunshine” performed with British singer Des'ree; and promoted their own Mambazo Foundation for South African Music and Culture. The 10-man a cappella group's compelling performance style was a unique melding of indigenous Zulu songs and dances with South African iscathamiya, a soft, shuffling style of dance accompanied by ragtime-influenced choral part-singing.

      The group was founded in 1964 by Joseph Shabalala, a young South African who hoped to bring new interpretations to traditional Zulu music. He chose the name Ladysmith (the name of the Zulu farming village where he lived) Black (to represent the black oxen that are regarded as the strongest oxen on the farm) Mambazo (from the Zulu word for “axe” to symbolize the group's ability to cut down the competition) and recruited several relatives to join.

      A radio broadcast in 1970 brought about their first recording contract, and in 1973 Ladysmith Black Mambazo released Amabutho, the first African album to reach gold record status (25,000 sold). The group gained worldwide recognition from their 1986 collaboration with American singer-songwriter Paul Simon on his Grammy Award-winning Graceland, one of the best-selling albums of the 1980s, and in 1987 Ladysmith Black Mambazo won their own Grammy in the best traditional folk recording category for the album Shaka Zulu. By 1999 the group had recorded more than 30 albums, including Induku Zethu (1987), Inala (1987), and Liph'Iqiniso (1994), which altogether had sold more than 30 million records around the world, establishing them as the best-selling musical group in Africa. Their music also appeared on the sound tracks for such films as Coming to America, A Dry White Season, Cry the Beloved Country, and The Lion King, Part II. Ladysmith Black Mambazo lent their talents to a Steppenwolf Theater Company of Chicago's staging of The Song of Jacob Zulu, a play about the apartheid era in South Africa. The production premiered in Chicago in 1992, opened on Broadway in 1993, and was nominated for six Tony awards, including a “Best Music for a Play” nomination for the group. Other notable performances included the 1987 Graceland World Tour, two concerts at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Ga., and a 1996 concert organized at the request of South African Pres. Nelson Mandela to perform for the British royal family at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

      In 1999 Ladysmith Black Mambazo consisted of Joseph Shabalala, Sibongiseni Shabalala (his son), Msizi Shabalala, Thamsanqa Shabalala, Thulani Shabalala, Jockey Shabalala, Albert Mazibuko, Abednego Mazibuko, Russel Mthembu, and Jabulani Dubazana.

Erin Stapleton-Corcoran

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Universalium. 2010.

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