Ladysmith Black Mambazo shares a piece of South Africa

[10 March 2009]

By Mike Osegueda

McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

It’s been more than 20 years since Paul Simon helped introduce the American mainstream to Ladysmith Black Mambazo on his “Graceland” album.

These days the group is still doing what it’s been doing since the 1960s - using a capella harmonies and captivating dance to share a piece of South Africa with the world.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has won Grammys, performed at the Olympics and for Nelson Mandela, plus worked with people ranging from Michael Jackson to Josh Groban.

We caught up with group spokesmen Albert Mazibuko, the cousin of group founder and leader Joseph Shabalala, to learn more about keeps Ladysmith Black Mambazo going strong.

Q: You’ve been in the group 40 years now - what has it been like to watch the group grow, evolve and succeed over all these years?

A: It’s always amazing and it’s always encouraging. It makes me want to do more and try my best all the time to make it better.

Q. Out of all the things you guys have done, performing for the Royal Family, the Olympics - what are you most proud of?

A. Our mission has been successful. From the beginning when we started the group, we wanted our music to inspire people and comfort people and make people think they can achieve anything. We’ve succeeded in that. Everybody around the world says our music has been an inspiration. Even the youth people at home, they look at us and think because we did it that they can do anything.

Q. We see family musical groups in all forms of music, and it doesn’t always work out the best. You guys have made it work well. What’s your guys’ secret?

A. Our secret is prayer. We believe in prayer. We never start a tour without fasting and going out to the mountains and spending time there and sharing with God. It keeps us strong and going all the time. In whatever situation we come across, our solution is to get together and pray.

Q. A lot of people have asked questions about Joseph retiring from the group. Whenever that happens, how do you see the group moving on without him?

A. The group will go on and it will be strong. His sons that we have in the group, they show so much talent, they show so much gift. Right now on stage we give them the chance to prove themselves. When we’re at home, when we’re preparing for the tour or when we’re preparing for the album, we give everything to them to prepare.

Q. You guys have been all over the world - was there a city or country that really hit you like “Wow, I never thought I’d make it here.”

A. When went to Japan, people (were) telling us that if we perform there, people are so quiet and sometimes they don’t respond to your music. They’re not going to clap hands, they’re just going to sit there. Surprisingly when we got there, somebody introduced us in their language, and when we got onto the stage and we started the song, we were surprised that everybody clapped. We were surprised like “Wow is this really happening?”

Q. If someone has never seen you guys perform live, what should they expect from your show?

A. It will be a lot of singing - joyful music, vibrant music. Most the songs that we sing, we sing and we dance. At the intermission, I teach the audience a song. I talk to them and joke a little bit. Then I sing the song with the audience. Then Ladysmith Black Mambazo comes out and competes with the audience. Every night I win.

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