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3 Generations of Ladysmith Black Mambazo

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Monday March 17, 2014

From The Pitch

Ladysmith Black Mambazo brought three generations of history to Liberty Hall on Thursday night
By: Andy Erdrich

Part history lesson disguised as entertainment and part life-affirming chill session, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Liberty Hall recital commanded a captivated audience. Normally, when a band or performer proclaims they want to bring about world peace through music, eyes begin to roll. However, with a 50-year track record that includes singing at Nelson Mandela’s presidential inauguration as well as his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance ceremony and joining Paul Simon in creating the 1986 Grammy Award-winning album Graceland – effectively breaking through a South African cultural embargo and helping to introduce world music to the U.S. – it becomes very possible to take such a claim seriously.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s performance was replete with calming melodies, pantomime antics and audience participation. Between songs, various members of the all male, ten-person choir would preface the next piece with introductions to other members of the group or a dedication. From these segues, the audience learned group founder Joseph Shabalala could not be present due to his recovery from surgery, that four of Joseph’s sons and one grandson were members of the group, and that in 2002, Joseph’s wife and group matriarch Nellie Shabalala had passed away.

Nellie Shabalala’s death may have been twelve years ago, but Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s current tour is in support of their most recent recording Always With Us, an album dedicated to Nellie that combines past recordings of her singing with a contemporary overlay of the group accompanying her. As to be expected, multiple songs from the album were performed as well as many older pieces, some dating back to the mid-sixties.

In Joseph’s absence, his sons took over leading the group, exchanging the front man position with their brothers to accommodate individual song needs. The rest of the choir stood in a single line, each man with his own boom mic setup and all in matching dress, behind the soloist at center stage. In a call-and-response fashion, the lead singer would begin each song and the choir body would follow, eventually creating a melodic bed for the soloist to perform on top of. The group lead would also instigate choreography, often steering the group into what can only be described as jazz-esque solo sections where each performer was given “x” amount of time to dance freestyle.

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