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Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Back To The Beginning
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Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Back To The Beginning
Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Back To The Beginning
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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been singing the story of South Africa for more than 50 years. The a capella group gained worldwide fame when Paul Simon featured them on his 1986 album, "Graceland." Since then they've performed with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Dolly Parton, and for everyone from the Queen of England to the Pope.

Now, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is literally going back to the beginning. The group has recorded a new CD, "Songs from a Zulu Farm," a collection of songs traditionally sung by Zulu parents to their children.

Albert Mazibuko is one of the original members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He's the cousin of the group's other original member, founder Joseph Shabalala. He joins us from member station KQED in San Francisco.

Mr. Mazibuko, welcome to the program.

Mr. ALBERT MAZIBUKO (Member, Ladysmith Black Mambazo): Thank you. It's nice for having me here.

HANSEN: And with him is the group's manager, Mitch Goldstein.

Welcome to you, Mr. Goldstein.

Mr. MITCH GOLDSTEIN (Manager, Ladysmith Black Mambazo): Thank you very much.

HANSEN: I'd like to start with you, actually. Why an album of children's songs?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: I've been working with the group for 20 years and there's such a rich, wonderful history, a personal history that comes from the group that doesnt always -it's not always found in their CDs. And when we were sitting down talking about the next project they wanted to work on, I suggested that they share with their audience and their fans their personal side.

I've been to the farms where they grew up, outside of Ladysmith, and when Im there with Joseph Shabalala, the founder of the group, and Albert, they share with me the stories of their childhood and the songs and what their parents used to teach them. And I thought if there was a way to bring that out in a CD, for the fans to listen to, it would be wonderful. So we sat down and came up with this idea of recording songs from their childhood.

HANSEN: Mr. Mazibuko, tell me a bit about the song - please forgive my pronunciation and correct it, "Imithi Gobakahle."

Mr. MAZIBUKO: Yes, "Imithi Gobakahle."

(Soundbite of thunder and rain)

(Soundbite of song, "Imithi Gobakahle")

LADYSMITH (Singing Group): (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: What is that song?

Mr. MAZIBUKO: That is the song that we play when the storms come. So it's a warning song that we call the children to come to a safe place.

HANSEN: And this is one you heard as a child?

Mr. MAZIBUKO: This is a song that we used to sing as children and my grandmother used to sing to us, and then my father also. And this is a song that is a wonderful song. It's got a great (unintelligible), harmonies are (unintelligible).

HANSEN: Yeah, I also happen to like the clap of thunder that begins it.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: We wanted to add a little bit of the natural elements that they experienced on the farms of South Africa. So we didnt want to make it schmaltzy, so to speak. But we did want to add a bit of the natural elements that go on.

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: How old are these songs? I mean do they go back centuries?

Mr. MAZIBUKO: I think they are very old, because when my grandmother tell me about the songs, she said that their parents were singing the same songs to them.

HANSEN: So you heard the songs from your grandmother, and chances are she heard it from her mother who heard from her mother, who heard from mother.

Mr. MAZIBUKO: Exactly.

HANSEN: Another song - again, my Zulu is not that good -"Ntulube," "N-tulube?" It's the one that translates to: A way, you river snake.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Ntulube")

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. MAZIBUKO: "Ntulube." Yeah, this is a song that we used to sing when we are going swimming. So when we are going to swimming, so we have another creature we don't want to share the water with, and like snakes and frogs and other creature. But there's only one creature that we want to swim with - it's a tortoise.

HANSEN: A tortoise. So you sing in hopes that the snakes will get out of your way in the river.

Mr. MAZIBUKO: Absolutely, yes.

HANSEN: Does it work?

Mr. MAZIBUKO: Yes, it works all the time. You can...

HANSEN: Really?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MAZIBUKO: You can see the frogs, they're jumping out of the water.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Ntulube")

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: Joseph Shabalala, the founder and front man for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, he's touring with the group. He couldn't be with us today.

Mr. Goldstein, how is he holding up after these years?

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Amazing. People cannot believe that he's as old as some people say he is. Albert on the stage, every night, announces that the group was formed actually about 50 years ago by Joseph. And people can't imagine that he formed it when he was five years old. And they do the arithmetic and they marvel at how old he must be. And he's wonderful.

I every so often ask him if he still enjoys being on the road and traveling. And he says, this is my life, this is my love - this is what I want to do. He cannot imagine staying home and not traveling with the group.

HANSEN: Joseph Shabalala composed a song on this album called "Thalaza."

(Soundbite of song, "Thalaza")

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: On the press release, it says that in this song Mr. Shabalala professes his love and longing for the times and places of his youth in this song.

Mr. Mazibuko, what do the words mean in that song? Can you translate for us?

Mr. MAZIBUKO: "Thalaza," it means to look around and looking for something. In fact, the story behind this song, it's a story thats a remind of the people that all abandoned their homes, their families, their relatives. And then, because this song, it was created when Joseph see the people that when they leave their home for the city - especially the big cities, some of them even the small towns - so they go there forever.

These people, they stay there until some of them, they get old. So when they cannot keep up with their city life, they go back to their home to look for their relatives or a parents. Surprisingly, they find out that these people that they moved away. So they can't find them anymore.

So this is advice song that, dont abandon your relatives or your homes. So, as we say, "Thalaza" and then you say when you go there, so you will ask the people around where is my home. They said, we dont know. We dont know even what you are talking about, because you'll find other people who dont know your parents that were living there.

(Soundbite of song, "Thalaza")

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: It's very nostalgic kind of song, too.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Joseph always says: To know yourself, you must walk in the footsteps of your ancestors. He's a big believer in tradition, in family and knowing where you come from. He feels that people who leave their homelands, and leave their towns and families, they lose a huge part of themselves.

HANSEN: I would guess that "Old McDonald had a Farm" is not originally a Zulu tune.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Of course, it is.

HANSEN: It - come on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Old McDonald had a Farm")

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: We were sitting in the studio and we were working. And we were doing all these wonderful songs from the farm, and I just said hey, guys. Do you know this old traditional song, "Old McDonald had a Farm?" Some of the guys did and some of the others didnt, and so we just played around with it -singing it in Zulu. And everybody just had a great time with it. Everyone in the group loved doing it, so we just went for it. And it was just meant to be a fun song.

(Soundbite of song, "Old McDonald had a Farm")

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: Mr. Mazibuko, does E-I, E-I-O translate into any language?

Mr. MAZIBUKO: No, I think this is a universal language.

HANSEN: E-I, E-I-O?

Mr. MAZIBUKO: Yes, yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: Mitch Goldstein is the manager of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Albert Mazibuko is one of the a capella singers who performs on their new CD, "Songs from a Zulu Farm," which will be released Tuesday.

Thank you both very much.

Mr. MAZIBUKO: Welcome. Thank you very much.

Mr. GOLDSTEIN: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of song, "Old McDonald had a Farm")

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

HANSEN: You can stream Ladysmith Black Mambazo's music at NPRMusic.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Im Liane Hansen.

(Soundbite of song, "Old McDonald had a Farm")

LADYSMITH: (Singing in foreign language)

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