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

Joseph Shabalala grew up on a farm near the town of Ladysmith in South Africa. Apartheid, the mandated separation and inequality of the races, was very much in force. Working conditions were inhuman, and much of the work was in mines. As a young worker in Durban, Shabalala heard Saturday night choruses of miners singing in Zulu in the Isicathamiya style. A choral singer himself, Shabalala heard a new harmony in his dreams, 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." Singing in South Africa is a competitive sport. An axe chops down the competition.

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."

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

The singers kid Joseph about being an old man, but his beautiful voice still leads the group and the compositions are his.

(with introductory notes from the stage)

"Kusukela" -- 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" -- Celebrates the first democratic elections in South Africa to permit the black vote.
Shabalala teaches the audience to sing in Zulu and leads them in "Homeless."
"Kwathatha" -- We need strong ladies like Miriam Makeba (the noted South African singer). 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.

Long Walk to Freedom, a 2006 CD, celebrates Ladysmith's 20 years on the world stage 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 the Santa Fe Jazz Festival's Bruce Dunlap, with help from Anne North. The festival has morphed into a year-round venue, GIG Performance Space.
Justin Peacock (KUVO, Denver) is the recording engineer and field producer.

Copyright 2007 NPR