“She’s a rich girl, don’t try to hide it – diamonds on the soles of her shoes.”
“Homeless, Homeless – Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake”
Do these lyrics sound familiar? They are songs sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo with Paul Simon on his album “Graceland,” the album that put this group on the map globally. Last night, we went to a very special concert at the State Theater in Pretoria to hear this iconic group sing as part of the celebration for what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 100th Birthday. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is an all male, a capella group made up of brothers, cousins, and friends who sing a style of music called isicathamiya.
The group was first formed in 1964 following a dream by the leader of the group, Joseph Shabalala (I love saying his name). Isicathamiya is a style of traditional Zulu music that became really popular in the 1960’s in Natal (a province of South Africa known for big mountains, bananas, surfing, and its warm, almost tropical climate). It is a traditional musical style where the roots are taken from Christian choral music much like Gospel and the blackface minstrelsy groups from the U.S. who toured South Africa in the 1920’s and 30’s. Back then many South African men would go to the cities to find work and after six days of strenuous labor would gather on Saturday nights to compete in singing competitions. Dressed in identical outfits, these groups of 10 to 24 men would be judged not only on their singing but also on the smoothness of their movements. Apparently, Ladysmith Black Mambazo won so many times that they were eventually asked not to compete anymore! I can totally see why. They sing beautifully – really rich bass with sweet tenor solos. Their movements were perfectly synchronized – lots of knee lifts and high kicks (a Zulu thing)!
The whole concert experience was awesome and I think even G enjoyed it at times. The crowd was so responsive, whooping and ululating every time someone did anything they liked (even a little knee lift got thunderous applause). Most of all I liked their message of “Peace, Love, and Harmony.” Did not realize that this group is now in its third generation (and my brother Max teaches a Shabalala grandson).
You have got to see these guys! I know they will be in Athens next year. Thanks to my dear friend Tina for this amazing experience!