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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

By Paula E. Kirman
Published February 19, 2008

Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu
Heads Up

With its multihued a cappella harmonies, contagious spirituality, and high-profile collaborations with some of the top names in music (Paul Simon in particular), Ladysmith Black Mambazo have ascended as one of the flagship groups on the international music scene. Ilembe is their latest effort in a 30-year career of combining traditional South African vocals with Christian gospel music. The album is a tribute to Shaka Zulu—the iconic South African warrior who became the first king of the Zulu nation after he united numerous regional tribes in the late 1800s. Given their historical inspiration, the songs on the album are definitely devotional and spiritual in nature, but they also deal with politics, relationships, and life in general. Although there’s an even-keeled seamlessness to the arrangements that at times makes them bleed together from song to song, the group’s signature bouncy, layered sound is as energetic as ever. LBM have always been known for the joyful feeling its music can coax into being, and for this reason alone, Ilembe is well worth a listen.