Ladysmith Black Mambazo,
with the English Chamber Orchestra,
No Boundaries
(Heads Up, 2004)

Some music has been memorable to me since the first time I heard it; it was unlike anything else I had ever heard. The song "Homeless" with Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo touched my heart with its poignant beauty. It seemed to embody Africa and its people.

Now the song "Homeless," sans Paul Simon, is on a new album, No Boundaries, along with a mix of traditional Zulu songs and classical music from Europe. No Boundaries is an apt title for this CD since music has the power to erase boundaries between peoples. As different as African and European music are, the album proves that the two types of music can blend into a synergy that wakes up the senses and satisfies the spirit.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the strings of the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Ralf Gothoni have created a fusion of Zulu voices supported by the strings, woodwinds, horns and drums of a European chamber orchestra plus a few African instruments, drums and bells. Add to that mix the organ-like harmonic voices of Ladysmith and the result soothes -- just what is needed.

Some songs, spirituals such as "Amazing Grace" and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring," are rendered tenderly while other songs, such as "Walil' Umtwana (The Child is Crying)" evokes Ladysmith's spiritual land, South Africa, and especially Kwa Zulu Natal. Joseph Shabalala, the lead singer and songwriter, is backed by the harmonies of the all-male singing group, and they arouse deep emotions as they sing heartfelt songs. The harmonies they create are punctuated by throat clicks that are a part of the Zulu language and unexpected vocal sounds, surprising and strange but not unpleasing to the ear.

Some songs such as "Sanctus (Heilig, Heilig, Heilig)" by Franz Shubert are haunting in their beauty in a rendition that includes Robert Brooks, a tenor, along with Shabalala. The blend of voices could not seem more right.

Isak Roux, the arranger of No Boundaries, grew up hearing Zulu music as a child in Africa. He has been true to it. African rhythms, African voices with a chamber orchestra playing in the background is more than a sum of its parts: it is art. It is a blessing.

by Barbara Spring
22 October 2005

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