Ladysmith Black Mambazo: 'Music from the blood to the blood'

Pop Music

February 22, 2004|By Knight Ridder / Tribune

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the end of apartheid in South Africa.

When this is mentioned to Albert Mazibuko, a member of the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, he immediately lets out a long, satisfied, "Yeaaahhh."

"It's good to see it in this way," he said from Las Vegas, one stop on a tour that will bring the group to Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis Wednesday.

"Because I've seen it before how it was, and I can see it now. It's wonderful. It's a great feeling, although we still have a lot to do. ... When I was a young man, I never dreamt it could be this way. It was something that you never even think about. "

For more than three decades, the 10-man Ladysmith Black Mambazo (five basses, two tenors, two altos and one lead) has been performing the traditional a cappella music of their homeland, called isicathamiya.

The unique bass-heavy harmonies and trill, whistles and clicks were born in the South African mines. The men would leave their homes, travel by train to stay in bad housing and work six-day weeks. To lift their spirits, they would sing songs every Sunday morning and quietly perform dance steps.

In 1964, Mazibuko's cousin Joseph Shabalala put the group together after converting to Christianity and having a dream. Shabalala named the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo: "Ladysmith" for his rural hometown, "Black" for the strongest farm animal, the ox, and "Mambazo" for the Zulu word for ax.

During the 1970s, the group recorded several albums and became stars in their home country. Then in 1984, singer Paul Simon was given a tape of the group by a Los Angeles DJ and fell in love with the sound.

Simon used the group for his landmark Graceland album, introducing Americans to the group and transforming the singers into worldwide cultural emissaries for South Africa.

Since then, the group has sold more than 6 million records worldwide; recorded and performed with other well-known folks, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton and Paul McCartney; sung on several movie soundtracks; and provided the music for a series of Lifesavers candy commercials.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo also has performed at two Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies and sung for Britain's royal family and the pope.

The group's current tour is for its latest album, Raise Your Spirit Higher: Wenyukela. Most of the songs are sung in Zulu, but Mazibuko said the language isn't as important as the message.

"What we call our music is -- it's music from the blood to the blood. So [one] doesn't need to understand the words. But the message, you can get it."

"In the live show, it's going to be a lot of dancing," Mazibuko said.

"It's going to be joyous music. If it's cold, it's going to make you very warm. It's going to be revival music and stimulation music. ...

"I can tell you, it's going to be a good, good show."

Concert

What: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Where: Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis

When: Wednesday, 7 p.m.

Tickets: $23-$28

Call: 410-269-1087 or go to www.seatadvisor.com

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