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World Music Features

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

By Chris Nickson
Published October 19, 2006

Think of world music, and a handful of names spring automatically to mind. Among them, without a doubt, is South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, with their immediately recognizable Zulu harmonies.

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Think of world music, and a handful of names spring automatically to mind. Among them, without a doubt, is South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, with their immediately recognizable Zulu harmonies. But by the time they first went international, appearing on Paul Simon’s Graceland album and tour in 1986, they were already veteran hitmakers at home, with more than 40 albums under their belts. Since that time, their star has continued to rise and rise, with many more discs and concerts to their credit.

This February, Ladysmith won the Traditional World Music Grammy for their album Raise Your Spirit Higher. They’ve received nine Grammy nominations in all, and won previously for the Simon-produced Shaka Zulu in 1987.

However, for No Boundaries (Heads Up Records), their most recent disc, they’ve taken a different direction, turning away from their usual acappella style to collaborate with the English Chamber Orchestra.

"It wasn’t our idea, we can’t take credit for it,” says Albert Mazibuko, a longtime member of the band, laughing. “There’s a guy [Robert Brooks, chairman of the International Classical Music Festival], who’s liked Mambazo for a long time. He raised the money for us to work with an orchestra, and we did a couple of concerts with them in 2000. They went very well, and then he said, ‘Now we should do a recording.’ We said okay, if we have time. We had time, and they chose the songs and wrote them in staff notation. Most of the recording was at a live concert, but we took the applause out, and went to a studio. It was very exciting, and I learned that the music has no bou

South African Gospel

 

Christianity features heavily in the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, heavily shaded by their Zulu sounds. But gospel has found its own voice in South Africa, particularly in the Zionist church, giving a unique, sometimes somber sound that’s utterly different from its American counterpart. The biggest name in the genre is Rebecca Malope, whose releases routinely go platinum. Lusanda Spiritual Group has been making waves for the last decade, with the voice of leader Lusanda Mcinga an absolute standout. More recently the Soweto Gospel Choir has emerged (they were featured on the AIDS benefit 46664 soundtrack and DVD) as one of the most powerful unifying voices in the country. And if you’re seeking a male gospel voice, look no further than Vuyu Mokoena, whose powerful pipes have a lot to offer.