Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO

A choral group formed on an amateur basis in 1965 in Ladysmith, South Africa. Originally from Swaziland, later based in Durban, the members were at first drawn from the Shabalala and Mazibuko families, led by Joseph Shabalala. His first group won prizes in ngomabusuki choir competitions, but he was not satisfied with the sound; the phrasing that made the group famous came to him in a dream: both freeflowing and strict, incredibly precise and heart-rendingly sweet. He picked the name, meaning 'black axe of Ladysmith', in 1973; they soon won so many prizes they were banned from competitions.

Twelve members, eight or ten on stage at a time, sing mostly in Zulu, also in English or Sotho, lyrics about everyday concerns and religious themes; the style of unaccompanied harmony is called Mbube. They first recorded on the Mavuthela label (part of the Gallo company); 13 LPs made them SA's best-selling group with sales over four million, including LPs Ukusindiswa, Amabutho, Amaghawe and Indlela Yasezulwini. The first international album was Induku Zethu '83 on the London-based Earthworks label; they toured Germany twice '85; late that year they made the lovely 'Homeless' with Paul Simon for his smash Graceland album; Ulwanule Oluncgwele '86 on Shanachie in USA, others; Simon produced their Shaka Zulu '87, with Journey Of Dreams and Two Worlds One Heart '88-90 all on WB; many others on Shanachie. All farm boys, their popularity at home is partly nostalgia for tribal simplicity, but the sheer beauty of their music has brought international stardom: in 2008 they sang in Des Moines, Iowa.

Joseph's younger brother Headman Tshabalala was shot and killed 10 December 1991 in a roadside argument near Durban (his name spelled that way by AP). Another brother, Jockey Shabalala, d 11 February 2006 aged 62, of natural causes.