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A Chat with Ladysmith Black Mambazo

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Wednesday August 15, 2018

From Theater Jones

Q&A: Albert Mazibuko: An interview with the longtime member of South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which performs at AT&T Performing Arts Center this week.
By: Richard Oliver

Formed out of the tumult and hardship of apartheid-era South Africa, musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo has used rich, a cappella harmonies to promote peace, love, and unity around the world for more than 50 years. Albert Mazibuko, cousin of founder Joseph Shabalala, joined the group in 1969, and has helped to carry on the central mission of honoring their traditions and spreading hope to all corners of the globe.

As the group prepares to bring their tour to Dallas, TheaterJones had the chance to catch up with Mazibuko. In our chat, he reflects on Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s journey and his hopes for the future.

I did do a bit of research on Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s background, and I came across this term “isicathamiya.” Can you tell what that means and how it informs your music?

Yes. Isicathamiya is the type of music that we are singing. It got its name because of the dance that we do. The dancing of isicathamiya is originated from Zulu dance, which is the stomping dance. When our forefathers were working in the mines, they were forbidden to do that Zulu dance because it was making a lot of banging. So, they started to tip-toe. When they took that dancing back home, people at home liked it, saying “Wow, now we are not stomping anymore.” They praised this kind of dancing by saying, “On toes, I’m fine.” So, the type of music became “isicathamiya.”

Are you influenced by any other factors, or do you introduce any other components?

We grew up seeing our fathers and their friends singing the same kind of music, but Joseph Shabalala, the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was always feeling that there was something missing listening to our fathers when they sing. He thought, ‘okay the singing is fine, but there is room that we can develop and make it better than that?’ So, in 1960, he formed his own group. He tried to teach the idea he had in his head, but he couldn’t succeed until 1964. He had a dream when he was asleep, dreaming of those people singing for him. He said the harmonies were so perfect and everything was so beautiful. The dream stayed with him for six months; just imagine every night you are dreaming the same dream until you learn everything from that dream. So, when he tried to teach that blend in voices in his group, they said his teaching was too much for them. That’s when he had another dream of his grandmother, my grandfather’s sister. She said to him, “Go to your brothers, and they will help you.” When he came to me in 1969, he told us this story, and I was very excited—a new idea of how to sing isicathamiya music. Since then, we never looked back.

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