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Ladysmith Black Mambazo Celebrate Anniversary

Mar 23, 2011 09:35PM ● By Anonymous

Upholding the traditional roots of their native South Africa since their formation, the group has never faltered or wavered in delivering powerful a capella music with a message.

Steadfast in their determination to be recognized, the group was banned from vocal competition in the 1960’s because of their dominance. And, though they would sign their first record contract in 1970, it wasn’t until the groups’ collaboration with Paul Simon on his seminal Graceland album in 1986 that they received well deserved worldwide recognition.

Since then, the group has won three Grammy awards, worked with countless artists of varying genres, and most recently, released an album dedicated to the traditions of their South African youth. The album, Songs From a Zulu Farm, finds the group still full of life and energy.

I caught up with 42 year veteran of the group Albert Mazibuko during the group’s recent string of local shows; two in Annapolis on the 1st and 8th, and one at George Washington University on the 10th.


You’re one of the longest tenured members in the group. Could you describe some of the changes you’ve seen the group go through during your time as a member?

Some of the members have retired, and others have passed on. It’s two of us now in the group that started, Joseph (Shabalala), who founded it, and myself. And then other guys who joined the group, some in the 70’s, some newer. 

What keeps you motivated after having performed for so many years?

First of all we are motivated by that we want to preserve this kind of music, and encouraged people to not to lose all of this beautiful talent that we have in South Africa. And after that, now, we are motivated by the people that like our music. People who come to us and say, “Oh, we enjoy your music.” And when we perform at shows, people will say, “We had a great time! Wow, this is wonderful!”

Some people will ask us to make music about this or that. It’s been so much from these people that has motivated us.

Are you still in contact with Paul Simon?

Yes, we are still in contact. In fact, almost every year we used to do a benefit show, but we didn’t do anything last year because we were busy at home for the World Cup. He used to talk over the phone with Joseph (Shabalala) all the time, and he always sends his regards.

You all have played at Rams Head in Annapolis in the past. Is it a special venue to you for any particular reasons or is it just another stop on the tour?

It’s a very…you know, special venue. You know every venue has a…. feeling. We’re excited to be there, especially this time performing our new songs from the Zulu Farm album. So it’s wonderful, we are so looking forward to it. 

What artist has been your favorite to collaborate with?

All of them are… you know to collaborate with somebody is very special, because you learn something different from everyone. When you sing with them, you always learn something different from this one, that one. But we had so much joy singing with Dolly Parton. It was wonderful. We even collaborated with her twice. We sang with her on “Peace Train” and then also we invited her on our album Heavenly when she sang “Knockin’ on Heavens Door”. But she is so fun to work with. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. 

Are there any you’d like to work with in the future?

You know, we haven’t worked with any rap artists, so that’s my wish if we can have the opportunity to do that, it would be wonderful. It is our saying that you learn a new thing every time when you are working with somebody who sings different music than yours. I want to have a feeling, how they record their music, watch how they feel in the studio when they make music.

How important did you feel it was to capture tradition and history on the latest album, Songs From a Zulu Farm?

It’s very important because it gives us the feeling we used to have when we were children. It’s a feeling of joy, being happy all the time. It brought back all of those memories. I remembered the song that we used to sing when we were feeling cold, especially in the winter. So we’d sing this song about removing the clouds from the sky. Singing to warm us up. The song we’d sing when we would go swimming. So singing all of those songs brought back happy memories that we have.


Do you have a favorite song on Songs From a Zulu Farm?

Wow! You know, it’s difficult to pick a favorite song but I like when we are doing the Zulu dance, the song where we sing and do the stomping. It makes it complete for me; the performing thing is complete. It’s where when I dance it makes me tired, where know I’ve had enough.

The group has seen a lot of members come and go over the years. How do you all go about selecting a new member for the group?

You know, when we are rehearsing at home, we invite everyone who would like to come and sing with us, so that’s how we select our members. A space will open up and we can say, “Oh, we have been rehearsing with this person”, and if he has the voice that we need, we will talk to him because we want to get to know the people. See how the person behaves, how he’s going to be able to travel, you know, it’s not easy to travel. [We look for] someone who’s patient, can laugh, has respect. A person who has focus in life.

Where do you see the group headed in the future?

Because we are doing our best to encourage young people and those in the group to keep the music fresh and keep the tradition, go forward, I see the group is going to go very, very far.