African Music Encyclopedia


Ladysmith Black Mambazo


Ladysmith Black Mambazo first came togeher in the early 1960s under the gentle guidance of sweet-voiced Joseph Shabalala. His inspiration for the group came to him in a dream in which a choir of children sang and danced. Shabalala soon transfered that dream to real life when he formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM).

Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Ladysmith is a South African township, Black Mambazo means black axe) is part of the time-honored tradition of South African Zulu male choral music called isicathamiya (derived from the Zulu word meaning "to walk or step on one's toes lightly") that transformed Zulu a capella. Among the most vital experiences of isicathamiya are competitions held every weekend in small venues in Johannesburg and Durban, among other cities. Under a strict set of rules judges (which before the end of apartheid usually consisted of an all-white panel) rate up to thirty choirs competing for cash prizes in events that often lasted from Saturday night to Sunday morning.

The roots of isicathamiya reach back to the turn of the twentieth century when large grops of males left their homelands and families to find work and lived in all-male hostels in the cities and near the mines. These migrants didn't form football (soccer) teams or the like, but instead turned towards singing as a means to stay close to their roots.

LBM released their first album in 1973. "Amabutho" was the first African LP to achieve a Gold Record (sales of 25,000), the album went on to sell many times more that figure. They have produced more than 30 albums since that time, including their collaboration on Paul Simon's "Graceland," in 1986, for which they provided two tracks. "Graceland" was one of the best selling albums of the eighties. They also recorded the Paul Simon-produced album, "Shaka Zulu," which won a Grammy for Best World Music Recording of 1988.

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