SOUTH AFRICAN HARMONIES

Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Photo by Robert Hoffman
Photo by Robert Hoffman

Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts at Brooklyn College concludes its 2010-2011 World Stages series with an evening of music by South Africa’s Grammy Award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo on Saturday, March 19 at 8:00 p.m.

Almost 25 years after they acquired international superstar status with Paul Simon’s Graceland album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo continues to tour the world as South Africa’s cultural emissary.

With a career including more than 50 recordings and three Grammy Awards, including 2009’s Best Traditional World Music Album for Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu, the group continues to thrill audiences with its rich a cappella arrangements and joyously energetic performances.

The group combines the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native homeland’s musical traditions with the sounds of Christian gospel music.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s signature unaccompanied vocals borrow heavily from isicathamiya, translated as “on tiptoes” or “stalking.” This traditional musical style was developed by black miners who sang in hushed harmonies so as not to disturb the guards posted outside their dormitories.

Founded by Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s first album, Shaka Zulu, won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Recording. The group received two 2007 Grammy Award nominations, Best Contemporary World Music Album and Best Surround Sound Album, for their 2006 album Long Walk to Freedom.

The album, featuring Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLachlan, Joe McBride, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal and Zap Mama, is a celebration of their long history and 12 years of democracy in the Republic of South Africa.

Their most recent release, “Songs From A Zulu Farm” (February 2011), is the group’s most personal work to date. “These are songs from the earliest time in our lives,” said Shabalala. “These are stories our fathers and mothers and other relatives shared with us, songs our grandparents sang. We have changed them somewhat and/or added extra harmonies and lyrics, but overall these songs represent an important memory of our early life. When we sing these songs, we’re singing songs from our history.”

Since the group acquired superstar status in the West 20 years ago, courtesy of Paul Simon’s Graceland album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded and performed with numerous singers, from Dolly Parton to Natalie Merchant to Stevie Wonder.

In addition to working with Paul Simon, they provided soundtrack material for Disney’s “The Lion King, Part II,” Eddie Murphy’s “Coming To America,” and Sean Connery’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.” Their film credits include featured appearances in Michael Jackson’s “Moonwalker” video and Spike Lee’s “Do It A Cappella.”

The group has been invited to perform at many special occasions, including Nobel Peace Prize ceremonies, South African presidential inaugurations, the 1996 Summer Olympics, and Queen Elizabeth’s 50th Anniversary as monarch.

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