Music The Theatre

Overview

For sixty years Ladysmith Black Mambazo have sung powerful, uplifting songs that emote the struggles and passion of South Africa. Nelson Mandela called Ladysmith “South Africa’s cultural ambassadors”. The group sing a cappella in a joyously energetic performance that combines loud powerful choruses with softer, almost whispering chants where voices blend harmoniously, and tightly choreographed dance moves. Featured on Paul Simon’s Graceland album, they have toured the world since, and were re-united with Paul Simon a few years ago in the Graceland world tour.

Biography

South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo was founded in 1960 by Joseph Shabalala, then a teenage farm boy living on the lands just outside the small town of Ladysmith, in the province of KwaZulu Natal, half-way between Johannesburg and Durban. To name is group, Joseph used his hometown to honor his family history. He added the word Black in reference to the black oxen, the strongest of all farm animals. Mambazo is the Zulu word for chopping axe, a symbol of the group’s vocal ability to clear the path to success.

It took several years for Joseph to find the best singers to join Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Over several months he had a recurring dream in which he heard the sound he wanted his group to have.  Finally, in early 1969, with four brothers and three cousins, Joseph had the voices he long dreamed of his group having. At that point Ladysmith Black Mambazo began their successful musical journey. Their early ability won so many awards, at the local South African competitions, that the group was banned from competing. However, they were always invited to attend as entertainers.

A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract, the beginning of an ambitious recording career that currently includes more than seventy albums, earning nineteen GRAMMY Award nominations and five GRAMMY Award wins; Shaka Zulu (1988), Raise Your Spirit Higher (2004), Ilembe (2009), Singing For Peace Around the World (2013) and just recently Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30 Year Anniversary Celebration (2017).

Singing For Peace Around The World...not just an album title but a statement of the group’s career mission. It was Nelson Mandela who called Ladysmith Black Mambazo South Africa’s Cultural Ambassadors to the world. It is a moniker the group members hold close to their hearts. Nelson Mandela passed away in 2013 but the group has been celebrating Mandela’s message of peace at every concert they perform.

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 resistance. Some sang songs with powerful messages of revolution against the horrors of apartheid. Others, like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, followed a path of peaceful protest. Joseph, following the ways of Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, wrote songs of hope and peace. 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 called on Ladysmith Black Mambazo to join him in Norway and have them entertain at the ceremony.

The group sings from a traditional music called isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-Ya), which developed in the mines of South Africa. It was there that black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and families. Poorly housed and paid worse, 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 1970's 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, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge, and many others. They have provided music for several movies, have appeared on Broadway where they were nominated for a Tony Award and even had a documentary film, On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, the Story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, nominated for an Academy Award.

After leading his group for over fifty years and approaching his seventy-fifth birthday, Joseph Shabalala retired in 2014, handing the leadership to his four sons, Thulani, Msizi, Sibongiseni and Thamsanqa. Having joined their father’s group in 1993, their years of training have prepared them in ways no others could be trained. Now, carrying their father’s dream into the future, the Shabalala Family continues the group’s success for the world to hear

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. We hope you will join them as they sing their message.

As the band say, "We are teachers. We travel the world spreading our message of Peace, Love and Harmony. What could be better or more important than that?"

Ticket Information

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