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Founded by leader Joseph Shabalala; other members include Abednigo Mazibuko, Albert Mazibuko, Geophrey Mdletshe, Russel Methembu, Jabulane Mwelase, Inos Phungula, Ben Shabalala, Headman Shabalala,and Jockey Shabalala; very popular in South Africa, the group came to prominence in the United States after performing on the Paul Simon album Graceland, 1986; toured with Simon, 1987, and appeared on his television special; has also toured the United States independently and appeared on television series "Saturday Night Live." Addresses: Office-- c/o Shanachie Record Corp., P.O. Box 208, Newton, NJ 07860. Agent-- Triad, 10100 Santa Monica Blvd., 16th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90067.
"Humanity's first instrument was the human voice." This is the basic philosophy behind much of post-modern experimental performance. It is also the truth behind the music that a Zulu choir has brought out of South Africa into recording and concert prominence in the United States in recent years. The ten members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo were the best-selling group in the Union of South Africa. Now, thanks to their participation in Paul Simon's Graceland album and tour, they have become popular recording artists in the United States as well.
The group, led by Joseph Shabalala, present a Zulu harmonic and variation style known as mbube. Stefan Grossman, distributor of the group's albums on Shanachie Records and a major figure in the rise of knowledgable audiences for African music in America, has described their style as "a timeless beauty that transcends culture, language and all other artificial barriers dividing humanity." American audiences, as attracted by the beat as the shifting harmonies, have purchased Ladysmith Black Mambazo's own four albums, Induku Zethu, Umthombo Wamanzi, Ulwande Olungwele, and Inala, in greater and greater numbers.
But it is still as a part of the Graceland album, tour, and television special that most North Americans know Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Paul Simon heard the group when he was considering which of the many African musical ensembles to include in his album (which was recorded in London). He selected the group, along with Tao Ea Matsekha, the Boyoyo Boys and others, as examples of the "mbaqanga" sound (roughly translatable as "township jive") which has political connotations within Africa and, as Simon recognized, an internationally attractive beat. Their cuts on the Graceland album, "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes" and "Homeless" (by Simon and Shabalala), were trememdously succesful, but it was the promotional performances with Simon on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" and their participation in the Graceland concerts that won over America.
New York critics were fervent in their praise of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's sound and show. Commenting on the first set of Graceland performances at the Radio City Music Hall in late April 1987, David Hinckley wrote in the New York Daily News that they "won the crowd most easily with amazingly rich 10-part harmony whose elements ranged from call-and-response gospel to rhythm and blues and human beat box." Don Aquilante wrote in the New York Post that "the real show-stoppers of the evening were Ladysmith Black Mambazo.... I have no idea what [Shabalala] called out in Zulu or what the gentlemen in his band responded, but it was fantastic, joyous, heartfelt, and big. These performers understand music performance is more than sound. They danced, mimed and interacted with one another, breaking any language barrier." The call-and-response mode also caught the attention of Jon Pareles, writing in the New York Times: "In a tradition of competitive singing called iscanthamiya, Zulu choruses do dance routines while they harmonize, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, led by Joseph Shabalala, has great moves. Ladysmith's own unaccompanied selections, in Zulu, call for singing and pointing and soft-shoeing."
Critical and audience acclaim was just as positive when the Graceland tour returned to New York in July for appearances at Madison Square Garden. Even in that 19,000-seat sports arena, Aquilante wrote in the New York Post, "this 10-man Zulu choir has an amazing rapport with the audience." This rapport was also evident in the television special "Graceland: The African Concert," taped in Zimbabwe for Showtime Entertainment and broadcast on the cable network in May 1987. Vince Aletti wrote in the Village Voice that, in their performances of "Nonathema" and "Hello to My Baby," "the vivacious Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a 10-man a capella choir that fills the stage with concentrated energy, begins to pivot, kick and bounce in unison."
When Graceland was awarded the Grammy as record of the year, many in the audience believed that the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences was recognizing more than a single album, star, group, or production. Graceland brought New African popular music out of the boycott/embargo that apartheid and its foes had erected around it. In the years since, the music forms, as represented by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, have quickly become among the most popular for both listening and dancing, with a growing audience throughout the world.
by Barbara Stratyner
Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Career
Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Awards
Shared Grammy Award with Paul Simon, for Graceland.
- Selective Works
- Graceland (includes Ladysmith Black Mambazo performing "Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes" and "Homeless"), Warner Brothers, 1986.
- Induku Zethu Shanachie Records, c. 1987.
- Umthombo Wamanzi Shanachie Records, c. 1987.
- Ulwande Olungwele Shanachie Records, c. 1987.
- Inala Shanachie Records, c. 1988.
June 16, 2004: Band member and singer Ben Shabalala was shot and killed on June 16, 2004, in Durban, South Africa, in unknown circumstances. He was in his late 40s. Source: Times (London), July 30, 2004, p. 30.
February 13, 2005: Ladysmith Black Mombazo won the Grammy Award for best traditional world music album for Raise Your Spirit Higher. Source: Grammys.com, www.grammys.com/awards/grammy/47winners, February 14, 2005.
January 24, 2006: Ladysmith Black Mombazo's album, Long Walk to Freedom, was released. Source: All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com, February 1, 2006.
February 11, 2006: Group member Jockey Shabalala died on February 11, 2006, in Ladysmith, South Africa. He was 62. Source: CNN.com, www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/africa/02/14/obit.shabalala.ap/index.html, February 24, 2006.
- New York Daily News, April 27, 1987.
- New York Post, April 27, 1987; July 4, 1987.
- New York Times, April 27, 1987.
- Village Voice, May 12, 1987.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo Lyrics
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