Dominican University will be hosting Ladysmith Black Mambazo on Saturday, February 8 in the Lund Auditorium at 7:30 PM. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is an all-male a cappella group from South Africa singing isicathamiya harmonies. The group formed during the 60’s by Joseph Shabalala, making their breakthrough as part of the Paul Simon’s Graceland project and soon became one of South Africa’s most prolific recording artists. The group has already been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning 3 since 2009.
Ladysmith values the importance of ensuring that the young South Africans maintain their isicathamiya traditions through their voices and melodies as well as the importance of being in the post-apartheid time. Dominican University is very excited to welcome the group to campus coming next month.
Led by founding member Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a nine member choral group hailing from South Africa. Heavily influenced by isicathamiya, a traditional style of music and dance among the rural and mine workers of South Africa, Shabalala attributes Ladysmith’s distinct style to a dream he had shortly before founding the group in 1964 – a dream of, “a [new], big voice, beautiful, blending very nice.” After achieving local success in South Africa, the group leapt to international fame after collaborating with Paul Simon on his famous 1986 album, Graceland. The group’s three part name refers to Joseph Shabalala’s hometown of Ladysmith, “Black” is a reference to an ox, a tribute to the group’s rural roots, and “Mambazo” is the Zulu word for “axe,” a boast of the group’s ability to “chop down” any competition.
Founded by Joseph Shabalala in 1964, the group quickly gained notoriety for their tight, polished performances to the point of being banned from competing in local music competitions. Throughout the 1960s and 70s, the group produced a number of singles which were featured on Radio Zulu, and in 1973, the group signed their first record contract with Gallo Ltd, the largest record company in South Africa at the time. In 1975, Shabalala converted to Christianity, and the topics of Ladysmith’s music shifted from traditional folk themes to songs of religious and spiritual inspiration. By the time Paul Simon sought out the group in 1985, Ladysmith had recorded 25 albums in South Africa. However, it was the collaboration with Simon on two tracks for his album Graceland (“Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and “Homeless”) that skyrocketed the group to international fame. In 1988, Simon produced Ladysmith’s albumn, Shaka Zulu which earned the group its first of three Grammys. Since that time, the group has recorded or been featured on over 50 albums and soundtracks, and collaborated with many other Western artists.
The legacy of Paul Simon’s Graceland has been occasionally debated. Some point to the album’s lack of political content and the fact that it violated a pre-existing UNESCO cultural boycott of South Africa meant to combat apartheid as evidence that the album had little direct impact on most black South Africans. On the other hand, many, including Joseph Shabalala are adamant that the album helped to raise awareness about South Africa and move the oppression of apartheid closer to the center of the international stage. Certainly within a decade of the album’s release, Nelson Mandela had been freed and the country held its first democratic elections, bringing a sunset to the era of apartheid in South Africa.
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