Courtesy Heads Up
Joseph Shabalala, left, performs with other members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo in NPR's Studio 4A.
Courtesy Heads Up
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Ladysmith Black Mambazo is the most famous practitioner of the a cappella singing style derived from traditional South African isicathamiya music. A quarter-century after its formation, the group gained worldwide acclaim when it collaborated with Paul Simon on his best-selling 1986 album Graceland. South Africa's most famous singing group has a new CD celebrating a decade worth of democracy in its homeland.
In a performance chat with NPR's Renee Montagne, Joseph Shabalala, the group's founder and leader, explains that the group's beautiful harmonies trace back to the days when men would leave towns like Ladysmith to go off to work in South Africa's gold and diamond mines. "At home everybody's allowed to open his or her mouth to sing, but when we are away from home... we miss those high voices," he says. "We started to imitate or emulate those beautiful ladies at home until we discovered that we have the voice, we can sing."
South Africa is gearing up for new elections, a decade after the country's first democratic elections swept away apartheid and made Nelson Mandela the country's first black president. Shabalala recalls the excitement of the earlier election, which was marked by long waits at the polls: "I was running up and down in Durban trying to find maybe a shorter line, but I [couldn't]. Everywhere [there] was a long line. It was amazing, it was beautiful."
The songs on Raise Your Spirit Higher: Wenyukela, the group's new CD, range from the inspirational, "Selingelethu Sonke" ("It means freedom is beautiful, the country is for us all," Shabalala says), to the cautionary: "Fak' Ibhande (Don't Drink and Drive)."
In addition to Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo consists of Jockey Shabalala, Msizi Shabalala, Thulani Shabalala, Sibongiseni Shabalala, Thamsanqa Shabalala, Albert Mazibuko, Abednego Mazibuko, Russel Mthembu and Jabulani Dubazana.