As South African cultural ambassadors, the award-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo rose to worldwide fame as a result of the group’s collaboration with Paul Simon on his album Graceland. Carrying a message of peace, love, and harmony, the group sings in the traditional vocal styles of isicathamiya and mbube.
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More about Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Designated “South Africa’s cultural ambassadors to the world” by Nelson Mandela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo was founded in the early 1960s 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, halfway between Johannesburg and Durban. Shabalala used his hometown’s name as part of the group name to honor his family’s history; the word black in reference to the black oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and mambazo, the Zulu word for chopping axe, as a symbol of the group’s vocal ability to clear the path to success.
It took several years for Shabalala to find the best singers to join his group. At one point he had a dream in which he heard the sound he wanted his group to emulate. Finally, in early 1969, with four brothers and three cousins, Shabalala had the voices he had long dreamed of, singing together from traditional music called isicathamiya, which was developed in the mines of South Africa. Early on, they won so many awards at local South African competitions, that the group was banned from competing by the end of 1969, but 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 70 albums, 19 Grammy Award nominations and five Grammy Award wins.
In the mid-1980s, American singer-songwriter Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated the group's rich harmonies into the famous Graceland album, a landmark recording that was 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 many movies, have appeared on Broadway where they were nominated for a Tony Award and even appeared in the Academy Award-nominated documentary On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, The Story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
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