Ladysmith Black Mambazo

REPUBLIC OF SOUTH AFRICA

Biography

The group got their name from the little South African town of Ladysmith, from whence their leader of many years, Joseph Shabalala, hails. The other half of the name is a nod to the Black Mambazo group “Black Axe”, active in South Africa during the 1950s. Joseph Shabalala, who started the group, is a former member of the singing group “Blacks”. They won quite a few singing competitions, but Shabalala didn’t continue with them. He felt that something was missing and he heard “a voice inside him”. A short time later Shabalala became a Christian, and the music he developed was a meld of what he heard in church and so-called mbube.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo released their first album, “Amabutho” in 1973. It was the first album to sell 25,000 and went to gold in South Africa. The disk later sold many times that number. The number in the group has varied between 7 and 13 members, but the style has always remained the same: mbube. This is a singing style that has developed among the back working class in the Natal province in South Africa, where the people are mainly Zulus. The population grew as a result of the industrialisation of South Africa in the 1930s and people worked in the mines and factories in the area. Many were commuters and went home only on weekends. So, local a capella singing competitions were often arranged. In 1939 the Solomon Lindas Original Evening Birds had a hit with their song, “Mbube” (Love), that became a benchmark for the a capella Zulu singing style.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo had their international breakthrough when they sang on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album in 1986. In 1988 Paul Simon produced their first American release, “Shaka Zulu” – it won a Grammy for Best World Music Recording and sold over 100,000 copies around the world. Ladysmith Black Mambazo have recorded over 30 albums, and are today among South Africa’s most popular musical ambassadors.