A Life Time In A Song : Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Who would have thought that from the humble setting of Ladysmith,South Africa a vocal group so prolific as Ladysmith Black Mambazo would gain world wide recognition and acclaim? It is no small fit that the groupd would go onto win 3 Grammy Awards and be nominated for 9 and even performed for the British Royal Family. It was no small fit that the group was looked upon as a shining light in the darkness of Apatheid era South Africa. The group's heavenly melodies are a true gift to the world. A timeless gift that stands for harmony,peace and unity.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo is no ordinary vocal group, it was founded after Joseph Shabalala had a series of recurring dreams during his sleep, over a period of six months, featuring a choir singing in perfect harmony.Shabalala described this as a beautiful sound, and one not yet achieved by his group of the time that comprised only of his brothers and cousins that was formed in 1960. As a result, he reformed the group, bringing on board newer (younger) relatives but keeping the group name. He strived to teach them the harmonies from his dreams, creating what was to become a signature tune for the group: "Nomathemba" (a girl's name - meaning "hope").
The name Ladysmith Black Mambazo has a meaning to it.Black being a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo being the Zulu word for axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to “chop down” any singing rival who might challenge them. Their collective voices were so tight and their harmonies so polished that they were eventually banned from competitions
For over forty years, the voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo have married the intricate rhythms and harmonies of theirnative South African musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music. The result is a musical and spiritual alchemy that has touched a worldwide audience representing every corner of the religious, cultural and ethnic landscape. Their musical efforts over the past four decades have garnered praise and accolades within the recording industry, but also solidified their identity as a cultural force to be reckoned with.
A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract – the beginning of an ambitious discography that currently includes more than fifty recordings. Their philosophy in the studio was – and continues to be – just as much about preservation of musical heritage as it is about entertainment. The group borrows heavily from a traditional music called isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-Ya), which developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Poorly housed and paid worse, the mine workers would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours on Sunday morning. When the miners returned to the homelands, this musical tradition returned with them.
In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Black Mambazo’s rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his Graceland album – a landmark 1986 recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences. "Graceland" one many awards including the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year. A year later, Simon produced Black Mambazo’s first U.S. release, Shaka Zulu, which won the Grammy Award, in 1988,for Best Traditional Folk Album. Since then, and in total, the group has received fifteen Grammy Award Nominations and three Grammy Award wins, including one in 2009.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been invited to perform at many special occasions. By special invitation from South African President Nelson Mandela, they performed for the Queen of England and the Royal Family at the Royal Albert Hall in London. The group has also performed at two Nobel Peace Prize Ceremonies, a concert for Pope John Paul II in Rome, the South African Presidential inaugurations, the 1996 Summer Olympics and many other special events. In the summer of 2002, Black Mambazo was again asked to represent their nation in London at a celebration for Queen Elizabeth’s 50th Anniversary as Monarch. They shared the stage with Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker and Phil Collins.
Just when one think the group should be slowing down they are entering what should be the busiest years of their career since "Graceland." They have six new recording projects they are readying for release, a new concert DVD and a Children's project. They have long wished to release a trilogy of CD's that sing of their life experiences in South Africa called "Our South African Life." Volume one, coming out January, 2011 is "Songs From A Zulu Farm." This wonderful recording is important to the group members because the older members of the group were born and raised on the farms outside of Ladysmith. It is a collection of original and traditional songs that sing of life on the farm.