Black Mambazo flying the South African flag high
FROM winning vetkoeks in a music competition to collecting Grammy Awards, the current crop of Ladysmith Black Mambazo harmonisers are as humble, focused and bent on success as their predecessors, who started out in the business more than six decades ago.
Easily South Africa’s premier a cappella group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s name went up in lights after they collaborated with popular US singer Paul Simon on their Graceland album.
Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes was a smash hit from Graceland, which was released in the late 1980s, and won a Grammy in the album of the year category.
The group has lost none of their sparkle after interacting with Simon – the four Grammy awards that came their way thereafter bear testimony to their musical genius.
Their latest Grammy in the best world music album 2017 category was announced in New York last week.
Having entertained high-profile people including the British royal family (Queen Elizabeth, Prince Charles and his late wife Princess Diana), collaborated with Michael Jackson on the track Emafini and with Stevie Wonder, they bagged their latest Grammy for their album Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Celebration.
Speaking to Independent Media on Thursday at his home in Durban North, former member Russel Mthembu, 71, a long-time friend of Joseph Shabalala the founder of the group, said he had jumped for joy when he got wind of the New York announcement.
“It was dawn when I got the call. It was madness thereafter; I knelt down and thanked God for the great news.
“After we were told about the nomination for the award, past and present members of the group gathered at Shabalala’s home in Ladysmith for a special prayer.
“Joseph’s health is not the best, so he is unable to travel.
“We are all family; there’s no distinction between old and new members of the group,” said Mthembu.
He joined the group in 1974 after he bumped into Shabalala in a traditional healer’s waiting room.
After an engaging conversation with the affable Shabalala, he was invited to a band rehearsal and that marked the beginning of his love affair with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
The veteran musician said the band was founded on strong values and Christian principles and none of the members abused drugs or alcohol.
Mthembu rated sharing the stage with other top local musicians Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Ray Phiri and the drummer Isaac Mtshali on the Graceland tour, including performing with Johnny Clegg of Juluka in London, as some of their best musical experiences.
Mthembu was excited about the future for the current nine members of the band.
The band’s manager, Xolani Majozi, said the group was presently on a three month tour of the US and would be back in South Africa in April.
“When we return, the first stop would be at our founder’s (Joseph Shabalala) home to show him the Grammy.”
Ladysmith Black Mambazo member Msizi Shabalala with the group’s fifth Grammy award for Best World Music Album, which they won last week.