BluesWax Spotlight On
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Fine Arts Center Concert Hall
University of Massachusetts Amherst
January 30, 2013
By Eric Sutter
For fifty years Ladysmith Black Mambazo has taken it’s message of peace, love, and harmony around the world through their unique musical fusion of traditional South African and Christian gospel music. They cross cultural boundaries with musical messages in a Isicathamiya (a cappella) choral style. Intricate rhythms and nature effects combined with their glorious voices to create sounds that mystified the audience.
The nine-man group began with the chant “I Love My Brothers and Sisters.” This beautiful music is so joyful it crossed the entire emotional spectrum. It evoked enthusiasm and excitement regardless of spiritual direction. Love songs and folk songs weaved vivid imagery that transported one to another place. “Uthekwane (The Prettiest Bird),” from their latest CD, Songs From A Zulu Farm, brought forth singing in Zulu and English. Funky dancing and clowning ensued… high Zulu leg kicks, hand claps, and foot stomps enhanced the musical vision. Lead singer Joseph Shabalala led the group with his high tenor as alto and bass voices harmonized on the first song he wrote, “Nomathemba.” It was a love song about a man who doesn’t want his girl to leave him. Passing the tradition on, his youngest son sang lead falsetto on the love song “Hello By Baby,” which raised spirits high with some smooth, hip-shakin’ dance moves. Some songs described their beautiful jungle homeland as they made bush calls, whistles, and bird sounds.
The second half celebrated their worldwide recoqnition from Paul Simon‘s landmark 1986 recording, Graceland, with a wonderful rendition of “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes.” Their body language expressed lots of joy… they were very light on their feet on the tips of toes. “Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain” from 2006′s Long Walk To Freedom was a soulful nature ballad. The Paul Simon-penned “Homeless” was well received. The group is superior at expression of universal joy and sadness through music. The South African folk song “Shosholoza” or “Down In The Mines” was sung call and response style about the working man’s hardship with audience participation clapping to the beat. They encored with the hopeful message of “Amazing Grace.”
Eric Sutter is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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