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Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the 2005 Santa Fe Jazz & International Music Festival

Joseph Shabalala grew up on a farm in South Africa near the town of Ladysmith. In the 1950s, apartheid was very much in force. Working conditions were inhumane, and much of the work was in mines. In Durban, Joseph heard Saturday night choruses of miners singing in Zulu, in the Isicathamiya style. Shabalala was a choral singer himself. One night in his dreams, Shabalala heard a new harmony, and awakened saying, "This is the sound that I want, and I can teach it to my guys."

Lady Smith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is Shabalala's dream made true -- "Ladysmith" for his hometown, "Black" because the strongest animal on the farm is the black ox, and "Mambazo," the Zulu word for "axe." An axe chops down the competition. Singing in South Africa is a competitive sport. The singers kid Joseph about being an old man, as you'll hear, but his beautiful voice leads the group in his compositions.

Paul Simon introduced Ladysmith to the world on Graceland (one of Dee Dee Bridgewater's favorite albums). A highlight of this JazzSet comes from Graceland -- "Homeless," a song for 1986 -- and 2005, as well: "Father Almighty, please help us. We sleep on cliffs. Strong winds destroyed our homes. We are homeless."

Ladysmith Black Mambazo traveled to Oslo with Nelson Mandela when he received the Nobel Peace Prize and sang at his presidential inauguration. At the 2005 Santa Fe Jazz and International Music Festival, where this JazzSet was recorded, the governor of New Mexico and the festival organizers gave Ladysmith a silver platter, in recognition and deep appreciation for their contributions to music and humanity.

Happy Thanksgiving! Peace, love and harmony.

(with introductory notes from the stage)

"Kusukela: "the title song to the Grammy-winning CD Raise the Spirit Higher

"Woqaqa: "encourages everyone to try to be a better person. "If you have a problem you cannot solve, don't worry. Leave to problem to another, but don't let your heart mislead you."

"Long Walk: "celebrating the first democratic elections in South Africa

Shabalala teaches the audience to sing in Zulu.

"Kwathatha: "We need strong ladies like Miriam Makeba. Although she was away from home for more than 27 years, she did not forget South Africa. However, if you want to marry her, you must pay. If you don't have [what she requires], don't waste her time.

"Nomathemba: "Shabalala's first composition, from the 1960s, about hope.

Keep your ears open! A new CD is coming in 2006 to celebrate Ladysmith's 20 years on the world stage - Long Walk to Freedom. With guests Hugh Masekela, Taj Mahal, Zap Mama, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge and more -- visit the Heads Up Web site for more details.

Thanks to the Heads Up label for support for this program.

Also, thanks to the Santa Fe Jazz Festival's Bruce Dunlap, with help from Anne North. Their wonderful jazz festival is folding, at least for awhile, and we congratulate them on their five strong years. Please come back!

Justin Peacock (KUVO, Denver) is the recording engineer and field producer. Great job, Justin!

Copyright 2007 NPR