Heavenly Voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo Perform at Meyerhoff January 23
Dynamic South African A Cappella Group Pays Tribute to South African Cultural Icon, Shaka Zulu
-- Los Angeles Times
Baltimore, Md. (January 22, 2008)- With the power of Gospel and the precision of Broadway, the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo are the undisputed kings of mbube, South African a cappella singing. The all-male, 10-member group became an international sensation upon singing with singer/songwriter Paul Simon on his groundbreaking hit album Graceland in 1986; and since then, they have never looked back. This week, on Wednesday, January 23, 2008, at 7:30 p.m., the group returns to the Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall for a performance that will feature music from their Grammy Award-winning 2006 album, A Long Walk to Freedom and their current release, Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu.
For more than 30 years, led by Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has married the intricate rhythms and traditional Zulu harmonies of their native South African musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music and reggae. The result is a musical and spiritual alchemy that has touched a worldwide audience representing every corner of the religious, cultural and ethnic landscape. Their musical efforts over the past three decades have garnered praise and accolades within the recording industry, but also solidified their identity as a cultural force to be reckoned with. Note: The BSO will not be performing on this concert.
On January 15, 2008, Ladysmith Black Mambazo released their new Heads Up International release, Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu, which celebrates the life of the great African warrior whose sense of perseverance, creativity and pride have inspired generations of descendants. In the late 1700s, the Zulus were an obscure tribe of less than 2000 South African natives ruled by a petty chief and seemingly doomed to eventual extinction. When one charismatic and cunning young warrior, Shaka Zulu, emerged from this small, disorganized clan, the path of South African history changed forever. In a span of less than two decades, Shaka Zulu united the Zulus with various neighboring tribes into a single powerful force that helped give birth to a proud nation.
Today, Shaka Zulu is regarded as one of the greatest leaders in African history. His combination of warrior discipline, visionary leadership, innate creativity and unshakable belief in a united nation continues to resonate to this day in South Africa. He is revered as the single figure who gave birth to the indomitable fighting spirit of the Zulus - the same spirit that enabled South Africans to persevere amid the European domination of their homeland for nearly two centuries of apartheid.
About Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Joseph Shabalala - then a young farm boy turned factory worker - the group took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo. "Ladysmith" was the name of Shabalala's rural hometown; "Black" was a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and "Mambazo" was the Zulu word for 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 they were eventually banned from competitions, although they were welcome to participate strictly as entertainers.
Shabalala says his conversion to Christianity in the 1960s helped define the group's musical identity. The path that the axe was chopping suddenly had a direction: "To bring this gospel of loving one another all over the world," he said. However, he's quick to point out that the message is not specific to any one religious orientation. "Without hearing the lyrics, this music gets into the blood, because it comes from the blood," he says. "It evokes enthusiasm and excitement, regardless of what you follow spiritually."
A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract, the beginning of an ambitious discography that currently includes more than 40 recordings. Their philosophy in the studio continues to be as much about preservation of musical heritage as it is about entertainment. The group borrows heavily from a traditional music called "isicathamiya" (is-cot-a-ME-Ya), which developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and families. Poorly housed and paid worse, the mine workers returned to the homelands, and this music returned with them.
In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Ladysmith Black Mambazo's rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his Graceland album - a landmark 1986 recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences. A year later, Simon produced the group's first U.S. release, Shaka Zulu, which won a Grammy in 1988 for Best Traditional Folk Album. Since then, the group has scored eight more Grammy nominations.
COMPLETE PROGRAM INFORMATION
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
ONE-NIGHT ONLY PERFORMANCE
Wednesday, January 23, 2008 at 7:30 p.m. - Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall
Media sponsorship is provided by City Paper.
Tickets for these performances begin at $20 and are available through the BSO Ticket Office, 877.BSO.1444 or 410.783.8000, or BSOmusic.org.