Thursday, February 2, 2012

Show & Tell: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Their name says it all: the Shabalala’s were destined to sing. If family names speak at all, it’s no surprise that Joseph Shabalala, the founder and leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and four of his sons, followed that path.

In his 52nd year leading his family and four other members (two of whom are also brothers), Joseph shares his music, culture, and spirituality with the world. Offering audiences the sound of “peace, love, and harmony,” this enlightening troupe arrived this Wednesday at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

Taken from their new album, “Songs From a Zulu Farm,” most songs told stories of life in Ladysmith, the hometown of Shabalala and the namesake of the company. From the humorous story of a pesky ankle-nipping chicken to a prayerful melody to chase away the clouds, Ladysmith Black Mambazo fluently translated South African daily life into infectious a cappella music. Without interference by instruments or distortion of technology, the lucid voice of the Mambazo’s soared with open clarity and honesty. Joseph Shabalala, who writes and arranges the music, also conducted the group, though he shared this honor with Sibongiseni – his youngest son and a relatively recent Mambazo member. Sibongiseni lead with a sincere voice and obvious enjoyment, and his effervescence shone through the music. 

The family aspect of Ladysmith Black Mambazo lent itself well to the dynamic of the group. Even sitting rows away, the seemingly tangible connection between performers radiated from the Mambazo’s synchronized movements and uplifting message of hope. The amalgam of nine individual voices into one deep, sonorous tone filled the theater and enraptured the audience. While the esoteric syllables and interwoven clicks and calls were foreign, the clear spirit and rhythms of each song beguiled listeners of all backgrounds and ages. In addition to the Shabalala’s native Zulu tongue, the Mambazo’s performed in English, from the soothing, “Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain,” to their famous 1985 collaboration with Paul Simon titled, “Homeless,”both of which were met with glorious admiration by the audience. 

Beyond the earnest message and soulful singing, Ladysmith Black Mambazo offered a performance laced with cheeky shenanigans. Histrionic dancing and playful mockery from all nine performers garnered laughter, cheers, and whistles from the lively audience and displayed the Mambazo’s endearing brotherhood. 

Joseph Shabalala was right. It truly was an experience filled with peace, love, and harmony.

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