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Ladysmith Black Mambazo Keeps the Music of their Childhood Alive

February 3, 2012

Since their earliest recordings and performances, the South African-based Grammy Award-winning male a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, as individuals and as a group, have maintained a respect and a reverence for their past.  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.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Tuesday, February 7 - 7:30 p.m.
Hatfield Hall Theater
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
5500 Wabash Ave., Terre Haute, IN

  Tickets : Adults range from $23 to $27, while youths/college students are $20.

  For tickets, call (812) 877-8544 or visit the Hatfield Hall ticket office from 
  10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

  Information about other Rose-Hulman shows is available at

But alongside the South African history witnessed by an entire world, there's a quieter, more personal past shared by Ladysmith Black Mambazo's members.  It is 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 American pop stars, and before the Grammy nominations and awards, 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 will share these songs in a special show at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology's Hatfield Hall Theater on Tuesday, February 7, at 7:30 p.m.  Tickets for adults range from $23 to $27, while youths/college students are $20.  For tickets, call (812) 877-8544 or visit the Hatfield Hall ticket office from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday.

Taking the many songs and stories of their youth and adding new lyrics, founder and frontman Joseph Shabalala and the other eight members of the group have recreated the idyllic world in which they once lived in their 2011 album Songs From A Zulu Farm, their most personal work to date.  It has been nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music CD (being announced on February 12.)

"These are songs from the earliest time in our lives," stated Shabalala in a press release announcing the album.  "These are stories our fathers and mothers and other relatives shared with us, songs our grandparents sang.  We have changed them somewhat and/or added extra harmonies and lyrics, but overall these songs represent an important memory of our early life.  When we sing these songs, we're singing songs from our history."

Shabalala revisits the farmland of his youth every month.  "Your roots are who you are.  I've read somewhere that it is very common for people to move back to their childhood home later in life.  This is true for many people I know.  I go home to see the sights I've known since I was a baby.  I see that field and I see my father and my mother standing with me as a little boy.  I love going home because it is just that . . . home."

For more than 40 years, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has married the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native South African musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music.  The result is a musical and spiritual alchemy that has touched a worldwide audience representing every corner of the religious, cultural and ethnic landscape. 

In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Black Mambazo's rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his Graceland album, a landmark 1986 recording that won the Grammy Award for Best Album and is considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences.  Their performance with Simon on Sesame Street is legendary and one of the top three requested Sesame Street segments in history.

About Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Simon states, "It isn't merely the grace and power of their dancing or the beauty of their singing that rivets the attention, but the sheer joy and love that emanates from their being."

The group provided soundtrack material for Disney's The Lion King, Part II as well as Eddie Murphy's Coming To America.  A recent film documentary titled On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, The story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.

Learn more about Ladysmith Black Mambazo at