Grammy-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs at CSB

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August 31, 2007

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the legendary South African musical group, performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 29,  in Petters Auditorium, Benedicta Arts Center of the College of Saint Benedict as part of the 2007-08 Fine Arts Series.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has come to represent the traditional culture of South Africa and is regarded as the country's cultural emissary at home and around the world. They are a national treasure of the new South Africa in part because they embody the traditions suppressed in the old South Africa.

It has been over 20 years since Paul Simon made his initial trip to South Africa and met Joseph Shabalala and the other members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo in a recording studio in Johannesburg. Simon was captivated by the stirring sound of bass, alto and tenor harmonies and incorporated these traditional sounds into his "Graceland" album, a project regarded by many as seminal to today's explosive interest in World Music.

The traditional music sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo is called ISICATHAMIYA (Is-Cot-A-Me-Ya). It was born in the mines of South Africa. Black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Poorly housed and paid worse, they would entertain themselves, after a six-day week, by singing songs into the wee hours every Sunday morning. They called themselves Cothoza Mfana, "tip toe guys," referring to the dance steps choreographed so as to not disturb the camp security guards. When miners returned to the homelands, the tradition returned with them. There began a fierce, but social, competition held regularly and a highlight of everyone's social calendar. The winners were awarded a goat for their efforts and, of course, the adoration of their fans. These competitions are held even today in YMCA assembly halls and church basements throughout Zululand South Africa.

Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Shabalala – then a young farm boy turned factory worker – the group took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Ladysmith being the name of Shabalala’s rural hometown; Black being a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo being the Zulu word for axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to “chop down” any singing rival who might challenge them. Their collective voices were so tight and their harmonies so polished that they were eventually banned from competitions – although they were welcome to participate strictly as entertainers.

A radio broadcast in 1970 brought about their first record contract. Since then, the group has recorded over 40 albums, selling over seven million records at home and abroad, and establishing themselves as the No. 1-selling group from Africa. Their work with Simon on the "Graceland" album attracted a world of fans that never knew that the sounds of Zulu harmony could be so captivating.

Their first album release for the United States, "Shaka Zulu", was produced by Simon and won the Grammy Award in 1987 for Best Traditional Folk Recording.  Since then, they have been nominated for a Grammy Award 11 additional times. In 2005, they were awarded their second Grammy Award, for Best Traditional World Music Recording, for the release "Raise Your Spirit Higher." Their most recent release, "Long Walk To Freedom", was nominated for two Grammy Awards in 2007.

"On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps To Freedom," a documentary film, which is the story of Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Documentary Film in 2001 as well as nominated for an Emmy Award for Best Cultural Documentary on American television.

The group has recorded with numerous artists from around the world besides Simon, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Ben Harper, The Wynans and George Clinton. Their film work includes a featured appearance in Michael Jackson's video "Moonwalker" and Spike Lee's "Do It A Cappella." Ladysmith Black Mambazo has provided soundtrack material for Disney's "The Lion King Part II,"  Eddie Murphy's "Coming To America," Marlon Brando's "A Dry White Season," James Earl Jones' "Cry The Beloved Country" and Sean Connery's "League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

The group has worked in the theater as well. In 1992, the Steppenwolf Theater Company of Chicago used the group's singing and acting abilities in a play written about the apartheid era. After first premiering in Chicago, "The Song of Jacob Zulu" opened on Broadway in New York City in the spring of 1993 and was nominated for six Tony Awards including Best Music for a Play. Shabalala and the group also were honored with the prestigious Drama Desk Award for Best Original Score.

In 1995, Ladysmith Black Mambazo collaborated in the staging of "Nomathemba," a musical based on the first song ever written by Shabalala. "Nomathemba" was performed in Chicago, where it was awarded Best Original Musical Score. "Nomathemba" went on to perform runs at Washington D.C.'s Kennedy Center and Boston's Shubert Theatre.

Tickets to Ladysmith Black Mambazo are $26, Senior (60+)/Youth (5-21) $23 and CSB/SJU ID $13. For tickets, call the Benedicta Arts Center Box Office at 320-363-5777 or 320-363-3577 or order online at To learn more about Ladysmith Black Mambazo, visit

This performance is funded in part by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board.