Music that Inspires
I have been listening Ladysmith Black Mambazo since as long as I can remember. My parents are, I suppose, what an NPR listener would call “World Music” fanatics. While they generally prefer West African music and Afropop, they used to drag me to Ladysmith concerts when I was a kid. I liked Ladysmith well enough at the time (as much as any fidgety kid with zero attention span possibly could), but it wasn’t until later that I became truly enthralled by their music and their messages of anti-racism, non-violence, peace, love, and faith. (Personal Note: My IRL name means faith in Swahili.)
Ladysmith was formed by Joseph Shabalala as a result “of a series of dreams he had in 1964, in which he heard certain isicathamiya harmonies (isicathamiya being the traditional music of the Zulu people).”
The name “Ladysmith Black Mambazo” is derived from: the hometown of Shabalala’s family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal; the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal; and mambazo, which means axe in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir’s ability to “chop down” the competition.
Ladysmith garnered world acclaim after being “discovered” by Paul Simon in 1985, and recording the track “Homeless” for Simon’s album Graceland (which is one of my favorite albums in the history of everything):
In 1993, to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s release from prison two years prior, Ladysmith released an album entitled Liph’ Iqiniso. That year and at Mandela’s request, Ladysmith accompanied Mandela to the Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony in Oslo, Norway in 1993, and sang at President Mandela’s inauguration in May 1994.
Mandela has called Ladysmith Black Mambazo “South Africa’s cultural ambassadors.”
Although Ladysmith is still recording albums and touring (as far as I know), in 2008, Shabalala signaled that his retirement would be imminent but that his son would become the new leader of the group:
In the early 1960’s I had a dream of a type of singing group that I wanted to create. Not just a dream, in the wishful way, but an actual dream while I was asleep. This beautiful dream led to the creation of my group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Now, some forty five plus years later this original dream has led to so many more dreams. We have been awarded Grammy Awards, represented our homeland of South Africa at many prestigious events, including accompanying Nelson Mandela to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, traveled the world so many times and most importantly, spread a message of Peace, Love and Harmony to millions of people.
This was never a dream a black South African could ever imagine.
As the years have passed, and the 20th century became the 21st, I started to get asked what will happen to Ladysmith Black Mambazo once I retired, if I ever retired. Well, I have spent much time thinking about this. Ladysmith Black Mambazo was never about one person. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a mission. A mission to spread our message and to keep our culture alive and known. South Africa is a most wonderful place, filled with beautiful people. By touring, as we have, almost seven months every year for over twenty years, we have wanted to keep South Africa alive in people’s hearts.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a family. Within the group I have had brothers and cousins singing together. Over the past fifteen years, because of retirements and death, I have been joined by four of my sons. They are the future of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, our next generation. The mission and message will continue. When the time comes for me to finish touring and to stay home they will carry on my dream. As well, my son Thamsanqa (Tommy) will become the new leader of the group. Thus, the dream I had over forty five years ago will continue well into the 21st century. Ladysmith Black Mambazo must continue as the message of Peace, Love and Harmony never must be silenced. We never will be silenced and we hope our fans and friends around the world will keep wanting to hear this message.
Ngiyabonga! Thank you!
Shabalala has suffered more tragedy than any one person should have to, losing two brothers and his wife to violence. That he remains as positive and committed to his message of peace should be an inspiration to everyone.
Having seen them perform live many times, I”m telling you: If you ever get a chance to see them in concert, you simply must go. They are a true joy to watch.
And, as always, Kulungile.1
UPDATE: I forgot my favorite song! Derp.
Ta na na na!
1 That’s “you’re welcome” in Zulu.[cross-posted at ABLC] [edited for clarity re formation of Ladysmith]