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The Virtuosity of Ladysmith Black Mambazo

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Tuesday January 29, 2013

From MD Theatre Guide

Concert Review: Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the Strathmore Music Center
By: Elizabeth Bruce

More than fifty years after Joseph Shabalala—then a young farm boy turned factory worker–founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo, this renowned South African a cappella ensemble continues to transport audiences worldwide with its signature brand of soft, sung eloquence. A blend of two South African musical forms, isicathamiya and its precursor mbube, with Christian gospel music, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music gained national prominence in their homeland decades ago, as they repeatedly swept the isicathamiya competitions that were held in the men’s worker hostels in Durban and Johannesburg. In fact, they so dominated these contests that they eventually were disallowed from further competition though welcomed to perform purely as artists.

This virtuosity of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was on full display at Strathmore Hall as this multigenerational, 9-member ensemble enthralled the audience with their symphonic a cappela sound, their voices rising and falling like the string section of a world-class orchestra. Primarily led with quiet authority by Founder Shabalala, the distinct personas of each member of the ensemble emerged over the course of the two-hour concert.

The concert encompassed at least 18 songs, including such well-known selections as the standard bearer of the mbube form, “Wimoweh,” [The Lion Sleeps Tonight], which began the concert, delighting the audience with its whispering familiarity. Each of the other songs, from the poetic ”Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain” to the amusing “Yangiluma Inkukhu [the Biting Chicken]” and the lyric “Yinhle Lentombi [This Lady Is Beautiful],” continued the felicity of rapport between the ensemble and the audience. Performed with mesmerizing combinations of foot-snapping, toe-stepping, high-kicking, hand-clapping synchronized movements characteristic of the isicathamiya form, the evening also featured stunning, crowd-rousing solo dance improvisations performed with good-natured, competitive zeal by different members of the ensemble.

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