Program: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

March 06, 2022
Berklee Performance Center

Five time GRAMMY-winning South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo returns to the USA after two years of travel restrictions, keeping them in South Africa due to the Covid pandemic. The past two years are the first time since the group rose to international fame, from their work with Paul Simon and his Graceland album in 1987, that the group has not been able to tour the world. Life in South Africa during Covid has been difficult, but the group is ready to travel around the USA, while practicing safe Covid measures, singing songs from their deep musical history.

Thank you for joining Ladysmith Black Mambazo for their return to the Boston area.

Thulani Shabalala
Sibongiseni Shabalala
Thamsanqa Shabalala
Msizi Shabalala
Albert Mazibuko
Abednego Mazibuko
Mfanafuthi Dlamini
Pius Shezi
Sabelo Mthembu

About Ladysmith Black Mambazo 

Ladysmith Black Mambazo was founded in the early 1960s by Joseph Shabalala, then a teenage Zulu farm boy living on the lands just outside the small town of Ladysmith. In naming the group, Joseph used his hometown to honor his family history. The word Black is reference to the black oxen, the strongest of the farm animals he worked with, so to announce the strength of the group’s vocal singing. Mambazo is the Zulu word for chopping axe, a symbol of the group’s vocal ability.

A radio broadcast of a Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract, the beginning of a recording career that includes over 70 albums, earning 19 GRAMMY nominations, and five GRAMMY wins, more than any other "world music" group. Those albums are Shaka Zulu (1988), Raise Your Spirit Higher (2004), Ilembe (2009), Singing For Peace Around the World (2013), and most recently Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30 Year Anniversary Celebration (2017).

Apartheid, the South African social system forced upon the country’s black majority to keep the white minority government in power, was a dividing force in many ways. The musicians and artists of South Africa took two paths of protest. Some sang songs with powerful messages of revolution against the horrors of apartheid. Others, led by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, followed a path of peaceful protest through songs of hope and love. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, in 1990, he stated that Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music was a powerful message of peace that he listened to while in jail. When Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1993, he asked the group to join him at the ceremony in Oslo. It was Mandela who called Ladysmith Black Mambazo “South Africa’s Cultural Ambassadors to the World.”

The group sings from a traditional music style called isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-Ya), which developed in the mines of South Africa. It was there that black workers were taken to work far away from their homes and families. Poorly housed and paid, the mineworkers would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours on Sunday morning. When the miners returned to their homes, this musical tradition returned with them.

During the 1970s Ladysmith Black Mambazo established themselves as the most successful music group in South Africa. In the mid-1980s, American singer/songwriter Paul Simon famously visited South Africa and incorporated the group's rich harmonies into the famous Graceland album (1986) – a landmark recording considered seminal in introducing "world music" to mainstream audiences.

In addition to their work with Paul Simon, the group has recorded with Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, and many others. They have provided music for many movies, have appeared on Broadway and even had a documentary film, On Tip Toe: The Story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, nominated for an Academy Award.

Joseph Shabalala retired in 2014, handing the group leadership to his four sons, Thulani, Msizi, Sibongiseni, and Thamsanqa. In their hands and with their voices, the future of the group is assured to continue for years to come. Ladysmith Black Mambazo carries a message of peace, love and harmony as they travel the world year after year. They bring this message, in song and dance, to every theater they perform in. 

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