Ladysmith Black Mambazo

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Performers and composers

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 2006
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 2006
Background information
Origin Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Genre(s) Isicathamiya, mbube
Years active 1960–1964 (original group)
1964–present (current incarnation)
Label(s) Gallo Record Company (1973–present)
Wrasse Records (1998–present)
Heads Up International (2004–present)
Joseph Shabalala
(founder, lead singer and musical director)
Sibongiseni Shabalala
Thamsanqa Shabalala
Thulani Shabalala
Msizi Shabalala
Albert Mazibuko
Abednego Mazibuko
Russel Mthembu
Muzi Sikhondze
Mfanufikile Zungu
Former members
Jockey Shabalala
Jabulani Dubazana
Inos Phungula
Ben Shabalala
Geophrey Mdletshe
Headman Shabalala
Milton Mazibuko
Funokwakhe Mazibuko
Joseph Mazibuko
Walter Malinga
Matovoti Msimanga

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a chorus from South Africa that is noted for singing a cappella isicathamiya and mbube music. They rose to worldwide prominence as a result of singing with Paul Simon on his album, Graceland. They were formed by Joseph Shabalala in 1960 and became one of South Africa's prolific recording artists, with their releases receiving gold and platinum disc honours. The group has now become a mobile academy, teaching people about South Africa and its culture.


Joseph Shabalala formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo because of a series of dreams he had in 1964, in which he heard certain isicathamiya harmonies, isicathamiya being the traditional music of the Zulu people. Following their local success at wedding ceremonies, Shabalala entered them into isicathamiya competitions. The group were described as 'so good' that they were eventually forbidden to enter the competitions but were welcomed to entertain at them. Although they had been recognised as an isicathamiya group in 1964, they had been singing together since the early 1950s. They released their first album, Amabutho, in 1973. The album, along with many other releases by the group, received gold disc certification. Ladysmith Black Mambazo's collaboration with Paul Simon in 1986 paved the way for international releases, making them widely known across the world.


The first incarnation of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was Ezimnyama Ngenkani (The Black Ones), formed by Shabalala in December of 1960. The members of the group were relatives (mostly brothers and cousins) of Shabalala, with many having sung with him whilst he was growing up on the farm where he was born. Although the group did sing well together and captured the sound of cothoza mfana (tip toe boys, a 1960s slang term for isicathamiya) and mbube groups of the time, they were unknown outside of the Ladysmith district.

In late 1964, Shabalala had a series of dreams over a period of six months, featuring a choir, singing in perfect harmony. Whilst his current group had not achieved this sound, Joseph reformed the group as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and taught them the harmonies from his dream. Shabalala invented the name from the hometown of his family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal, and mambazo, which means axe in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir's ability to "chop down" the competition.

Shabalala entered the group into isicathamiya competitions, held on Saturday nights in areas of Durban and Johannesburg. The group won nearly every competition that was held; eventually in 1973, they were forbidden to compete with the other choirs. They were, however, welcome to perform only.

In 1967, the group began to make recordings for Radio Zulu, and then signed with West Nkosi in 1972; Nkosi was a member of the Makgona Tsohle Band and a music producer at Gallo Record Company. Ladysmith Black Mambazo released their first album the following year, Amabutho, which received gold status, and was the first album by a black musician in South Africa to do so. Their subsequent albums also received gold or platinum certification. With the release of their second album, they had become professional singers.

In 1975, Shabalala converted to Christianity and the group released their first religious album, Ukukhanya Kwelanga. It earned a double platinum disc award, and the group's repertoire came to be dominated by hymns, mostly Methodist. Their 1976 Ukusindiswa became one of their most popular religious albums. By 1981, the group was well-known throughout South Africa, and was allowed to travel to Cologne, Germany. The group toured the country and appeared on television, and learned some of the German language; the 1981 Phansi Emgodini ( 1981) included the group singing in German on the track "Wir Grüssen Euch Alle". The following year, the group traveled back to Germany to appear on television during a quiz event, bringing about requests for live appearances.


In 1985, Paul Simon travelled to South Africa in the hope of collaborating with black musicians for his Graceland album. Simon asked Ladysmith Black Mambazo to work with him, and they travelled to London to record. The first recording was "Homeless", composed by Shabalala with English lyrics by Simon. The group's 1986 Ezulwini Siyakhona refers to the encounter with Paul Simon in the liner notes. Graceland was released in May of that year, and although both Joseph Shabalala and Paul Simon were accused of breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa, the album was a success and introduced Ladysmith Black Mambazo into the international arena. This also paved the way for other African acts like Stimela and Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens to gain popularity amongst Western audiences.

After Graceland, Simon acted as producer on three records for the group aimed at the American market, Shaka Zulu (1987), Journey of Dreams (1988) and Two Worlds, One Heart (1990). On the latter album, the group recorded with The Winans, Julia Fordham and George Clinton, among others.

On December 10 1991, Shabalala's brother and one of the bass members in the group, Headman Shabalala, was shot and killed by Sean Nicholas, a white off-duty security guard. His death was considered a racial killing by Paul Simon, who led the court proceedings against Nicholas. Shabalala stopped singing. Eventually, helped by his Christian beliefs, he returned to singing. Following the retirement of three more members in 1993, Shabalala recruited four of his sons into the group.


The Apartheid system was abolished in 1991. Many changes occurred within Ladysmith Black Mambazo following this; most notably the reformation of its members (see above). The release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years imprisonment brought about the group's first release in the post-Apartheid era, 1993's Liph' Iqiniso. The album's last track, "Isikifil' Inkululeko" ("Freedom Has Arrived"), was a celebration of the end of Apartheid.

According to Shabalala, Nelson Mandela (shortly after his release from prison) publicly stated that "the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo are South Africa's cultural ambassadors". In 1993, at the request of Nelson Mandela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo accompanied the future President of South Africa to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway. Mambazo sang again at President Mandela's inauguration in May 1994.

In 1998, the group recorded a special version of "Inkanyezi Nezazi" (The Star and the Wiseman) for a series of advertisements in Britain for Heinz. The adverts proved so popular that the group released the original 1992 version as a single; this was followed up by The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Star and the Wiseman, a compilation release which was certified triple platinum, selling 1 million copies in Britain alone. The single reached #2 in the UK Pop Charts. They have since traveled the world and have recorded with performers such as Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, The Winans, Julia Fordham, George Clinton, B*Witched, The Corrs, Ben Harper and many more and performing for Nelson Mandela, Pope John Paul II and the British royal family among many others.


Shabalala's wife Nellie was murdered in May 2002; Shabalala's hand was injured trying to protect her. The killing occurred during the recording of Wenyukela, the group's first album of new material since Lihl' Ixhiba Likagogo in 2000. Songs such as "Wenza Ngani?" ("How Did You Do That?") had a moral theme, such as racism. Others included "Fak' Ibhande" ("Don't Drink and Drive"), which warned of the dangers of alcohol and driving, "Wenyukela", which spoke of the resurrection of Jesus and how South Africans were nearly misled into killing each other during the 1994 elections, and "Selingelethu Sonke", a song asking for fair trade in Africa. The group had originally spoken of the issue of fair trade in the Oxfam campaign Make Trade Fair. They appeared as guests in "The Big Noise", a worldwide petition for fair trade.

The success of Wenyukela in South Africa prompted its release in Britain in March 2003 on Wrasse Records. Following the repeated success of the album, the American-based Headsup International released the album in January 2004. In addition to the standard version, Headsup released the album in the Hybrid SACD format. The US release reportedly sold 6 million copies and that garnered the group their second Grammy Award. They also embarked on a three month tour of the United States.

The group returned to Headsup with their 2005 release, No Boundaries, a collaboration with the English Chamber Orchestra which featured many classical standards (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, Ave Verum Corpus) and Mambazo tunes (Homeless, Awu, Wemadoda, Ngingenwe Emoyeni). Despite initial worry about European traditions and Zulu folklore, the album sold very well and was nominated for a Grammy Award.


Long Walk to Freedom, a celebration of 45 years together, was released by Ladysmith Black Mambazo on January 24, 2006. On the album (which also celebrated 20 years since Graceland), the group recorded with a multitude of artists including Zap Mama, Sarah McLachlan, Melissa Etheridge, Joe McBride, Natalie Merchant, Emmylou Harris, and Taj Mahal as well as South African musicians Lucky Dube, Phuzekhemisi, Bhekumuzi Luthuli, Nokukhanya, Thandiswa, Vusi Mahlasela and Hugh Masekela. Ladysmith Black Mambazo wishes to work with Paul Simon once more, twenty years on since Graceland.

To support the promotion of the album and tour, Mambazo appeared on various television and radio programmes throughout January and February 2006. The group has also started a street team; this is currently exclusive to fans in the US and Canada .

In April 2006, Mambazo collaborated with Josh Groban for his third studio album, Awake. The song, "Weeping", featured a clear South African influence; lines from a Mambazo song, "Wangibambezela" ("Message from his Heart") were added to the backing track of "Weeping". Following this, in August 2006, Mambazo began working with Mavis Staples in a collaboration for Staples's new album. Whilst Mambazo toured the United States, the television program Saturday Night Live parodied the group in a TV Funhouse sketch about failed Saturday morning cartoons starring black cartoon characters, one of which was a cartoon featuring the group called, Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Outer Space. Members of the group added commentary to the short for a special DVD release.

On October 17, 2006, Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed a special concert, Long Walk to Freedom: An Evening with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The night included special guest appearances by Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, The Mahotella Queens, Vusi Mahlasela, and Pete Seeger. In preparation for the show, The Mahotella Queens performed a concert the previous night (October 16) in New York.

The Ladysmith Black Mambazo Foundation

In January 1999, Joseph Shabalala founded The Ladysmith Black Mambazo Foundation. The aim of the organisation is to teach young Zulu South African children about their traditional culture and music; isicathamiya. Today, the Mambazo Academy is currently being built, with plans for a rehearsal hall, teaching areas and a professional recording studio. The main aim, of course, is to promote and teach the history of isicathamiya music to youngsters.

Awards and nominations

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, like many other artists, have been acknowledged in award ceremonies such as the Grammy Awards and Academy Awards. In 1988, the group received their first Grammy Award for the album Shaka Zulu, which was their first release recorded for the American market. Since then, they have won one more, and have been nominated eight additional times.

1981 S.A.R.I.E. Award Best Choral Group on Disc
1988 Grammy Award Best Traditional Folk Recording Shaka Zulu
1993 Drama Desk Award Best Original Music Score The Song of Jacob Zulu (stage)
1996 Drama Desk Award Best Original Music Score Nomathemba (stage)
1997 S.A.M.A. Award Best Zulu Music Album Ukuzala-Ukuzelula
1997 S.A.M.A. Award Best Duo or Group Award Ukuzala-Ukuzelula
2001 S.A.M.A. Award Best Zulu Music Album Lihl' Ixhiba Likagogo
2005 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Raise Your Spirit Higher
1991 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Classic Tracks
1993 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Best of - Vol. 1
1995 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Liph' Iqiniso
1995 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Gift of the Tortoise
1996 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Thuthukani Ngoxolo
1998 Grammy Award Best Contemporary World Music Album Heavenly
1999 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Live at the Royal Albert Hall
2001 Academy Award Best Short Documentary Film On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom
2002 Emmy Award Best Cultural Documentary On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom
2006 Grammy Award Best Contemporary World Music Album No Boundaries


The competitions and the first Mambazo concerts

After the release of the group's first album in 1973, they were banned from competing in the isicathamiya competitions because of their ability to win many of the competition. They were, however, welcome to perform for the audience. Following this, the group started performing for their own audiences in shows that were specially made - and soon afterwards, the group began touring around South Africa in their own concerts, but due to the Apartheid system in use, they were often stopped by police guards; on some of these occasions they were even made to lie down on the ground whilst being searched. Shortly afterwards, they were allowed to tour without permits.

The Graceland success

By 1986, the group had a very small number of white fans in South Africa; the majority of their fanbase was comprised of black people (the group mainly toured in townships). After Paul Simon included the group on his " Graceland Tour of 1987", the group began touring by themselves and became very widely known. They have visited Europe, USA, and Asia, amongst others. The group is quite possibly more well-known in the USA (due to the Graceland success and various advert campaigns for 7-Up and LifeSavers candy) and the UK (again, because of the Graceland success, and several successful advertisements for Heinz).


The group usually tours for three months before returning to South Africa (usually during the Christmas holiday). Altogether, the tours span nine to ten months each year. The group finished a four-month tour of the US in April 2006, and a follow-up 30-date tour of the UK (from May 5 through to June 10), with the Mbaqanga trio Mahotella Queens as their support act. Mambazo started a summer tour on 9 July 2006 with concerts in the US, Australia and New Zealand, ending in October 2006. The same month, the group performed a special concert entitled Long Walk to Freedom: An Evening with Ladysmith Black Mambazo at New York's Carnegie Hall (see 2006-present for more details). In January 2007, the group will commence a three-month tour of the US and will follow with concerts in Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The group will also complete an October-November 2007 tour of the UK.


Initially, the group was formed of Joseph Shabalala, his brothers Headman and Enoch, cousins Albert, Milton, Funokwakhe, Abednego and Joseph Mazibuko as well as close friends Matovoti Msimanga and Walter Malinga. Altogether, the group has had 30 different members at one point or another over the past forty-five years. However, founder Joseph Shabalala continues to lead the group in the recording studio and on stage.

Even though the early line-ups of the group contained a large amount of relatives from Shabalala's family (and, from 1969, his cousins from the Mazibuko family), most of the members that arrived in the group after the mid-1970s were recruited for their professional qualities. After alto voice Milton Mazibuko was murdered in 1980, the group spent quite a few months 'off', until returning the following year with two new members, Inos Phungula and Geophrey Mdletshe. After Shabalala's younger brother Headman was also murdered on December 10, 1991 (and the departure of Phungula, Mdletshe and Ben Shabalala - who was also killed in 2004), the group stopped singing for a while before Joseph recruited four of his six sons. In the 1970s, the group's original six members had been joined by many other men (most of whom only stayed with them for the recording sessions). Joseph Shabalala's sons joined the group in 1993, moving up from Ladysmith Black Mambazo's junior choir, Mshengu White Mambazo.

The members of the group currently reside in Kloof, just outside of the coastal city of Durban in KwaZulu-Natal - though due to their heavy work schedule and appearances, the group only spend a few weeks at home. The chorus' members are Joseph Shabalala; his sons Msizi, Thulani, Thamsanqa, and Sibongiseni; cousins Albert and Abednego Mazibuko; and close friend Russel Mthembu. Jabulani Dubazana, a member of the group since 1975, retired from international touring in September 2004. Long-time member Jockey Shabalala died at his home in Ladysmith, South Africa on February 11, 2006 from various ailments. He was 62, and was a member of the group for almost forty years.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo first recorded in 1973 on the Gallo label in South Africa. Since then, they have cut over fifty albums. Many of them have received gold and/or platinum disc certification.

In popular culture

  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo is referenced to in the movie Mean Girls ( 2004), when Cady Heron ( Lindsay Lohan) chooses to stay home for the weekend instead of going to see a concert with her parents. Her mother's confused response is, "But you love Ladysmith Black Mambazo!"
  • Priyan Weerappuli, the leader of the Sri Lankan group Pahan Silu, refers to Ladysmith Black Mambazo as among his greatest musical influences.

Retrieved from ""