Tuesday February 01, 2011
Since their earliest recordings, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has maintained a respect and a reverence for their past. Indeed, the centuries-old story of their homeland – sometimes joyous, sometimes troubled, but always rich and exhilarating – has been at the very foundation of this vocal group since its very beginning. But alongside the South African history witnessed by an entire world, there’s a quieter, more personal past shared by the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo – a time of youth and innocence, when the world consisted of nothing more than the hills and open fields of their parents’ farms in Zulu country. Before the stage performances, before the collaborations with other artists, before the Grammy awards, before all of that and so much more, the only songs these children knew were the traditional folk tunes handed down to them by their parents, their grandparents, and the countless generations that preceded them.
And yet, for all the decades that have come and gone, these songs are still very much alive. Ladysmith Black Mambazo shares them with the world in their new recording, Songs From A Zulu Farm, set for release in January, 2011. Founder and frontman Joseph Shabalala and the other members of the group recreate the idyllic world in which they once lived and offer a glimpse of it to fans and audiences around the globe. To say this is their most personal work to date would be an understatement.
“These are songs from the earliest time in our lives,” says Shabalala. “These are stories our fathers and mothers and other relatives shared with us, songs our grandparents sang. These songs represent an important memory of our early life. When we sing these songs, we’re singing songs from our history. It is such a joy for us to put these stories and songs together for our fans to enjoy too.”
Included among the sixteen tracks is “Old McDonald…Zulu Style,” a South African rendition of the well known children’s song, “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” This original classic is reworked in ways never before imagined as it is piped through the language and culture of the Zulu people. As well, there are various traditional tunes taken directly from the Zulu culture. Some are cautionary tales: “Imithi Gobakahle” (“Children Come Home”) calls the children inside when the skies grow dark and a rainstorm threatens, while “Ekhaya” (“Don’t Leave Home too Soon”) encourages teenagers to stay with their families until they are truly ready to live on their own. Other songs are about the various mischievous and troublesome animals so prevalent in Zulu country: “Ntulube” (“Away, You River Snakes”), is an attempt to chase snakes and frogs out of the river to make the water better for swimming, while “Uthekwane” (“The Prettiest Bird?”) is an ode to a vain bird who boasts of her beauty to the other animals. Toward the end of the cd, Shabalala professes his love and longing for the times and places of his youth in “Thalaza,” a song he composed to encourage people of every nation and culture to reconnect to innocence of their younger years.”
“Your roots are who you are,” says Shabalala, who revisits the farmland of his youth every month. “I go home to see the sights I’ve known since I was a baby. When I see that field I see my father and mother standing with me as a little boy. I love going home because it is just that…home.”
While Songs From A Zulu Farm may originate from the culture of South Africa, it speaks to certain joys of childhood that are universal. “There are children being told – or being sung – stories that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. These are the same stories and songs that they too will share with their children. We hope that these songs sung to children in South Africa can be shared with and enjoyed by families in other places in the world.