“It isn’t merely the grace and power of their dancing or the beauty of their singing that rivets the attention, but the sheer joy and love that emanates from their being.” – Paul Simon
In 2013, Ladysmith Black Mambazo – led by founder and leader Joseph Shabalala – celebrates over fifty years of joyous and uplifting music that marries the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native South African musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music. In those years, the a cappella vocal group has created 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 five decades have garnered praise and accolades within the recording industry, but also solidified their identity as a cultural force to be reckoned with.
Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Shabalala – then a young farmboy turned factory worker – the group took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Ladysmith being the name of Shabalala’s rural hometown; 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 – although they were welcome to participate strictly as entertainers.