Tuesday January 17, 2012
from Houston Press
Last Night: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
By Allison Wagoner
During Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we were reminded how a strong and motivated speaker, his words, and his delivery can help change a nation. Last night, we were reminded how the power of the human voice in music can be an equally efficacious ability if mastered correctly. People tend to forget exactly how powerful the voice is without any accompaniment. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a nine-member acapella singing group from South Africa, made the audience remember this last night at Fitzgerald’s.
A little (necessary) background before we begin: founder, musical director, and lead singer Professor Joseph Shabalala had a series of dreams in 1964 in which he heard isicathamiya, traditional harmonies of the Zulu people. Soon after, he formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo, naming his choral group after the town he was raised in.
Isicathamiya dates back to the turn of the 20th century, when men would leave their homelands in search of work in neighboring cities. It is usually all-male choral groups who use various vocal styles and chanting to create distinctive harmonies.
When the concert began — five minutes before it was scheduled to start — Joseph yelled, “Sanbonani!”, a Zulu greeting which, literally translated, means “I see you all.” He then told the audience that his grandparents sang most of the songs they were about to perform, and he was now passing them down to his own children and grandchildren. “Our mission is to spread the culture of South Africa; of love, peace, and harmony.”
Ladysmith Black Mambazo is made up of some of Joseph’s close relatives, including four of his sons. Joseph’s youngest son, Thamsanqa Shabalala, will take over when Joseph retires from international touring. After Joseph led three songs, he took a break and let the youngest son take his place. Thamsanqa is an alto, singing a few pitches higher-and a little softer-than his father’s. He spiritedly led the group in a few songs, including an English song called “This Is The Way We Do.”
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