Ladysmith Black Mambazo,
Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu
(Heads Up, 2008)

Few groups reach 48 years under the leadership of one man. When Joseph Shabalala began an all-male choir in 1960, his mission was to build a group that would win competitions. The name Ladysmith Black Mambazo is an affirmation of this goal. "Black" refers to the black ox, which is the strongest animal, and "Mambazo" is the Zulu word for axe. Their aim was literally to chop down their competition.

This group has had to be strong. In 1986, when they began working with Paul Simon, they violated their country's doctrine of apartheid, putting them at grave risk. Two members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo have been murdered due to racial tension, including Shabalala's brother. The members work hard during their concert appearances to stress the importance of tolerance and racial harmony in the context of Christian values. They are not just musicians of the highest caliber, they are ambassadors of peace.

Today, Joseph Shabalala still writes most of their songs. Nine songs of this collection -- Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu -- are in Zulu, with three in a mix of English and Zulu. These are songs of praise and faith. The sound is exhilaratingly ambient. Their music is an excellent test of any music system.

Their performances are a real treat. The traditionally dressed group regales you with tales of their homeland as well as their music. They are not just standing still while they're singing in that tight harmony, either. Zulu dances are strenuous and beautiful. If you ever have a chance to hear this group live, it's well worth the price of admission.

In the meantime, Ilembe is a excellent listening experience at home.

review by
Becky Kyle

12 April 2008

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