Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College continues its 60th Anniversary Season with an evening of joyous and uplifting music by South Africa’s Grammy Award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo on Saturday, Jan. 31, 2015 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $30-$40 and can be purchased at BrooklynCenter.org or by calling the box office at 718-951-4500 (Tue-Sat, 1:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.).
Led by founder and leader Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo celebrates more than 50 years of spreading their native South African musical traditions all over the globe. With their intricate rhythms and harmonies, this a cappella vocal group has created a musical legacy that has touched a worldwide audience. Their musical efforts over the past five decades have garnered international praise and accolades.
Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Mr. Shabalala, who was then a young farm boy turned factory worker, the group took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Ladysmith is the name of Mr. Shabalala’s hometown, about three hours west of Durban and three hours east of Johannesburg; Black is a reference to the oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo is the Zulu word for chopping 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 by the end of the 1960s they were banned from competitions, although they were welcome to participate as entertainers.
With a discography that includes more than 50 recordings, their philosophy in the studio has been just as much about preservation of musical heritage as it is about entertainment. The group borrows heavily from a traditional music called isicathamiya, which developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Poorly housed and paid a pittance, the mine workers would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours on Sunday morning. When the miners returned to the homelands, this musical tradition returned with them.
During the 1970s and early 1980s, Ladysmith Black Mambazo established themselves as the most successful singing group in South Africa. In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated the group’s rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his famous Graceland album – a landmark recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences. A year later, Paul Simon produced Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s first worldwide release, Shaka Zulu, which won a Grammy Award in 1988 for Best Folk Recording. Since then, the group has been awarded three more Grammy Awards, including their 2013 album Live: Singing For Peace Around The World. Recorded during their World Tours of 2011 and 2012, the album won the Grammy Award for Best World Music CD for 2013.
In addition to their work with Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with numerous artists from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge, and many others. Their film work includes a featured appearance in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video and Spike Lee’s Do It A Cappella. They’ve provided soundtrack material for Disney’s The Lion King, Part II as well as Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America, Marlon Brando’s A Dry White Season, Sean Connery’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, James Earl Jones’ Cry The Beloved Country, and Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. A film documentary titled On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, the story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award®. They have appeared on Broadway and have been nominated for Tony® Awards and have won a Drama Desk Award. In more recent popular culture they have been part of such shows as Family Guy and the movie Mean Girls (“But you LOVE Ladysmith Black Mambazo”).
In 2014 the group released their newest CD, Always With Us. This CD is a tribute to the group’s matriarch, Nellie Shabalala, Joseph Shabalala’s wife who passed away in 2002. The album is a collection of recordings Nellie did with her church choir in 2001. Ladysmith Black Mambazo recorded their voices with Nellie’s songs in a beautiful tribute to her life and memory.