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Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a male choral group from South Africa that sings in the vocal style of isicathamiya and mbube. They rose to worldwide prominence as a result of singing with Paul Simon on his album, Graceland and have won multiple awards, including three Grammy Awards. They were formed by Joseph Shabalala in 1960 and became one of South Africa's most prolific recording artists, with their releases receiving gold and platinum disc honours. The group has now become a mobile academy, teaching people about South Africa and its culture.


Joseph Shabalala formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo because of a series of dreams he had in 1964, in which he heard certain isicathamiya harmonies (isicathamiya being the traditional music of the Zulu people). Following their local success at wedding ceremonies and other gatherings, Shabalala entered them into isicathamiya competitions. The group were described as 'so good' that they were eventually forbidden to enter the competitions, but welcomed to entertain at them. Although they had been recognised as an isicathamiya group in 1964, they had been singing together since the early 1950s. They released their first album, Amabutho, in 1973. The album, along with many other releases by the group, received gold disc certification. Ladysmith Black Mambazo's collaboration with Paul Simon in 1986 paved the way for international releases, making them widely known across the world.


The first incarnation of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was "Ezimnyama" ("The Black Ones"), formed by Shabalala in December 1960. The members of the group were relatives (mostly brothers and cousins) of Shabalala, with many having sung with him while he was growing up on the farm where he was born. Although the group did sing well together and captured the sound of cothoza mfana (tip toe boys, a 1960s slang term for isicathamiya) and mbube groups of the time, they were unknown outside of the Ladysmith district.

In 1964, Shabalala had a series of recurring dreams during his sleep, over a period of six months, featuring a choir singing in perfect harmony. Shabalala described this as a beautiful sound, and one not yet achieved by his group at the time. As a result, he reformed the group as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and strived to teach them the harmonies from his dream. Shabalala invented the name from the hometown of his family, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natalmarker; the black ox, considered to be the strongest farm animal; and mambazo, which means axe in the Zulu language, and is symbolic of the choir's ability to "chop down" the competition.Shabalala entered the group into isicathamiya competitions, held on Saturday nights in areas of Durbanmarker and Johannesburgmarker. The group won nearly every competition that was held; eventually, by 1973, they were forbidden to compete with the other choirs. They were, however, welcome to perform without taking part in the competition itself.

In 1967, the group began to make recordings for Radio Zulu, and then signed with producer West Nkosi in 1972 at Gallo Record Company (Nkosi was also well-known in South Africa as a saxophonist in Gallo's African music division Mavuthela Music Company). Ladysmith Black Mambazo released their first album the following year, Amabutho, which received gold status and was the first album by a black musician or group in South Africa to do so. Their subsequent albums also received gold or platinum certification. With the release of their second album, they had become professional singers.

In 1975, Shabalala converted to Christianity. The group released their first religious album, Ukukhanya Kwelanga, not long afterwards. It earned a double platinum disc award, and the group's repertoire came to be dominated by hymns, mostly Methodist. Their 1976 LP Ukusindiswa became one of their most popular religious albums, selling double gold discs within three weeks of release. By 1981, the group's popularity was such that the apartheid government allowed the members to travel to Cologne, Germany as part of a Southern African music festival. The group toured West Germany and appeared on television, and learned some of the German language; for the group's 1981 album Phansi Emgodini, Shabalala composed a song titled "Wir Grüssen Euch Alle". The following year, the group traveled back to Germany to appear on a televised quiz programme, bringing about requests for more live appearances.


In 1985, Paul Simon traveled to South Africa in the hope of collaborating with African musicians for his Graceland album. Simon contacted Shabalala and conversed with him in person - after much discussion and excitement, the group traveled to Londonmarker to record with Simon. The first recording was "Homeless" - the music and chorus were composed by Simon, with Shabalala composing the Zulu introduction and main (non-English) body of the song (incidentally, Ladysmith Black Mambazo's 1986 album Ezulwini Siyakhona refers to the encounter with Paul Simon in the liner notes). Graceland was released in late 1986, and although both Joseph Shabalala and Paul Simon were accused of breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa, the album became a huge success and sold 16 million copies and further boosted Ladysmith Black Mambazo's international image. This also paved the way for other African acts like Stimela and Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens to gain popularity amongst Western audiences.

After Graceland, Simon acted as producer on three records for the group aimed at the American market, Shaka Zulu (1987), Journey of Dreams (1988) and Two Worlds, One Heart (1990). On the latter album, the group recorded with The Winans, Julia Fordham and George Clinton among other then-popular artists.

In 1988, Ladysmith Black Mambazo appeared in Michael Jackson's movie Moonwalker, where they performed "The Moon Is Walking" (an abridged version of the song "Lindelani", which appears on Journey of Dreams) over the end credits. Ladysmith Black Mambazo was also featured in the Sesame Street song "Put Down The Duckie".

On 10 December 1991, Shabalala's brother and one of the bass members in the group, Headman Shabalala, was shot and killed by Sean Nicholas, a white off-duty security guard. His death was considered a racially motivated killing by Paul Simon, who led the court proceedings against Nicholas. Joseph Shabalala stopped singing. Eventually, aided by his Christian beliefs, he returned to singing. Following the retirement of three more members in 1993, Shabalala recruited four of his sons into the group.


The Apartheid system was abolished in 1991. The release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years imprisonment brought a celebratory album release - 1993's Liph' Iqiniso. The album's last track, "Isikifil' Inkululeko" ("Freedom Has Arrived"), was a celebration of the end of Apartheid.

According to Shabalala, Nelson Mandela (shortly after his release from prison) publicly stated that the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo were "South Africa's cultural ambassadors". Ladysmith Black Mambazo accompanied the future President of South Africa to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norwaymarker at the request of Nelson Mandela, in 1993. Mambazo sang again at President Mandela's inauguration in May 1994, and then later at his birthday celebrations.

In 1997, for a series of television advertisements entitled "Toast for Life" for Heinz soups, baked beans, salad cream, and tomato ketchup, the group recorded an abridged version of "Inkanyezi Nezazi" ("The Star and the Wiseman"). The adverts proved so popular that the original studio version (recorded back in 1992) was released as a single, with the cover art imitating the label on a tin of Heinz Baked Beans; the single reached #2 in the UK Pop Charts. The single was followed up by The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo - The Star and the Wiseman in 1998, a compilation release which became so popular that it was certified triple platinum, selling 1 million copies in Britain alone. The Heinz campaign led to a reawakening of the group in Britain, and many television and radio performances beckoned over the next few years, as well as performing for the British royal family. In 2001, the group was referenced in the Family Guy episode Lethal Weapons.


As a follow-up to the traditional release Lihl' Ixhiba Likagogo in 2000, the group began preparations for Wenyukela, another album of new material, in 2002. However, the making of the record underwent severe strain when, in May 2002, Shabalala's wife Nellie of thirty years (and lead singer in the allied group "Women of Mambazo"), was murdered in a church car park by a masked gunman. Shabalala's hand was injured trying to protect his wife. Joseph's son Vivian Nkosinathi was accused of hiring a hitman to murder his stepmother Nellie. During the court trial, Nkosinathi supposedly testified that the South African police offered some kind of reprieve if he would implicate his own father, Joseph, in the murder.

Wenyukela, however, went ahead, as Shabalala began to recover. Songs such as "Wenza Ngani?" ("How Did You Do That?") had a moral theme, such as racism. Others included "Fak' Ibhande" ("Don't Drink and Drive"), which warned of the dangers of alcohol and driving; "Wenyukela", which spoke of the resurrection of Jesus and how South Africans were nearly misled into killing each other during the 1994 elections; and "Selingelethu Sonke", a song asking for fair trade in Africa. The group had originally spoken of the issue of fair trade in the Oxfam campaign Make Trade Fair. They appeared as guests in "The Big Noise", a worldwide petition for fair trade.

The success of Wenyukela in South Africa prompted its release in Britainmarker in March 2003 on Wrasse Records. Following the repeated success of the album, the American-based Heads Up International released the album in January 2004. In addition to the standard version, Heads Up released the album in the Hybrid SACD format. The US release reportedly went platinum and it garnered the group their second Grammy Award. They also embarked on a three month tour of the United States.

The group signed to Heads Up (in America; they remained with Gallo in South Africa) with their 2005 release, No Boundaries, a collaboration with the English Chamber Orchestra which featured many classical standards (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring, Ave Verum Corpus) and Mambazo tunes (Homeless, Awu, Wemadoda, Ngingenwe Emoyeni). Despite initial worry about merging European traditions and Zulu folklore, the album sold very well and was nominated for a Grammy Award.


Long Walk to Freedom, a celebration of 45 years of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was released by the group on 24 January 2006. On the album (which also celebrated the 20th anniversary of Graceland), the group recorded with a multitude of artists including Zap Mama, Sarah McLachlan, Melissa Etheridge, Joe McBride, Natalie Merchant, Emmylou Harris, and Taj Mahal as well as South African musicians Lucky Dube, Phuzekhemisi, Bhekumuzi Luthuli, Nokukhanya, Thandiswa, Vusi Mahlasela and Hugh Masekela. Ladysmith Black Mambazo also expressed wishes to work with Paul Simon once more, twenty years on since Graceland.

To support the promotion of the album and tour, Mambazo appeared on various television and radio programmes throughout January and February 2006. The group also started a street team; this is currently exclusive to fans in the US and Canada.

In April 2006, Mambazo collaborated with Josh Groban for his third studio album, Awake. The songs, "Weeping" and "Lullaby", featured a clear South African influence; lines from a Mambazo song, "Wangibambezela" ("Message from his Heart") were added to the backing track of "Weeping". Following this, in August 2006, Mambazo began working with Mavis Staples in a collaboration for Staples's new album. Whilst Mambazo toured the United States, the television program Saturday Night Live parodied the group in a TV Funhouse sketch, hosted by Dennis Haysbert, about failed Saturday morning cartoons starring black cartoon characters, one of which was a cartoon featuring the group called, Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Outer Space. Members of the group added commentary to the short for the DVD release of the SNL special, "The Best of TV Funhouse".

On October 17, 2006, Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed a special concert, Long Walk to Freedom: An Evening with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The night included special guest appearances by Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Mahotella Queens, Vusi Mahlasela, and Pete Seeger. In preparation for the show, the Mahotella Queens performed a special a cappella concert the previous night (October 16) in New York.

For Bob Sinclar's third Africanism mix album, a sampled version of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's song "Isala Kutshelwa" (1985) was used in the song "Steel Storm". Ladysmith Black Mambazo was again nominated for two Grammy Awards in the 49th Annual Grammy Awards in 2007, for their album Long Walk to Freedom. The album was nominated in the categories Best Contemporary World Music Album and Best Surround Sound Production, but did not win.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo's 2007 album, Ilembe, was released on February 26, 2007. It was released in South Africa initially, and issued in the United Kingdom on the Warner Jazz label on April 2, 2007 (under the title Ilembe - Our Tribute to King Shaka). The album featured new recordings such as "Ommu Beno Mmu" ("Somebody And Somebody"), "Sizobalanda" ("We Are Here") and "Iphel' Emasini" ("A Cockroach In The Milk" - Zulu proverb). The album was released in the United States on January 22, 2008, under the title Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu, on Heads Up International.


There had been many questions on when founder, director, composer, and lead singer Joseph Shabalala would finally retire from his group. On January 23, 2008, Shabalala issued a statement on this.

The full statement is reproduced below:

Ladysmith Black Mambazo's 2007 release, Ilembe, garnered success on both sides of the world. In 2008 the group won the SAMA Award for Best Traditional A Cappella Album for Ilembe, and it was announced in November 2008 that the US Surround sound version of the album was nominated for Best Traditional World Music Album in the 2009 Grammy Awards, marking their 13th Grammy nomination. The group won this award - their third Grammy - in the ceremony held on 8 February, 2009.

In September 2008, Mambazo in collaboration with the SABC Choir released My Dream - African Sounds, an album featuring the two choirs performing each other's songs, as well as singing together. Songs included are "Plea for Africa", original Mambazo tunes "Shintsha Sithothobala" and "Angimboni Ofana Naye", as well as new compositions like "Buya Lindiwe" and "Okuhle Hle".

The Ladysmith Black Mambazo Foundation

In January 1999, Joseph Shabalala founded The Ladysmith Black Mambazo Foundation. The aim of the organization is to teach young Zulu South African children about their traditional culture and music; isicathamiya. Today, the Mambazo Academy is currently being built, with plans for a rehearsal hall, teaching areas and a professional recording studio. The main aim, of course, is to promote and teach the history of isicathamiya music to youngsters.

Awards and nominations

Ladysmith Black Mambazo have been acknowledged in award ceremonies such as the Grammy Awards and Academy Awards. In 1988, the group received their first Grammy Award for the album Shaka Zulu, which was their first release recorded for the American market. Since then, they have won two more, and have been nominated for a total of thirteen times.


1981 SARIE Award Best Choral Group on Disc
1988 Grammy Award Best Traditional Folk Recording Shaka Zulu
1993 Drama Desk Award Outstanding Music in a Play The Song of Jacob Zulu (stage)
1996 Drama Desk Award Best Original Music Score Nomathemba (stage)
1997 SAMA Award Best Zulu Music Album Ukuzala-Ukuzelula
1997 SAMA Award Best Duo or Group Award Ukuzala-Ukuzelula
2001 SAMA Award Best Zulu Music Album Lihl' Ixhiba Likagogo
2005 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Raise Your Spirit Higher
2008 SAMA Award Best Traditional A Cappella Album Ilembe
2009 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu


1988 Grammy Award Best Traditional Folk Recording Shaka Zulu
1991 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Classic Tracks
1993 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Best of - Vol. 1
1995 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Liph' Iqiniso
1995 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Gift of the Tortoise
1996 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Thuthukani Ngoxolo
1998 Grammy Award Best Contemporary World Music Album Heavenly
1999 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Live at the Royal Albert Hall
2001 Academy Award Best Short Documentary Film On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom
2002 Emmy Award Best Cultural Documentary On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom
2005 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Raise Your Spirit Higher
2006 Grammy Award Best Contemporary World Music Album No Boundaries
2007 Grammy Award Best Contemporary World Music Album Long Walk to Freedom
2007 Grammy Award Best Surround Sound Production Long Walk to Freedom
2009 Grammy Award Best Traditional World Music Album Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu


The competitions and the first Mambazo concerts

After the release of the group's first album in 1973, they were banned from competing in the isicathamiya competitions because of their ability to win many of the competition. They were, however, welcome to perform for the audience. Following this, the group started performing for their own audiences in shows that were specially made - and soon afterwards, the group began touring around South Africa in their own concerts, but due to the Apartheid system in use, they were often stopped by police guards; on some of these occasions they were even made to lie down on the ground whilst being searched. Shortly afterwards, they were allowed to tour without permits.

The Graceland success

By 1986, the group had a very small number of white fans in South Africa; the majority of their fan base was black people (the group mainly toured in townships). After Paul Simon included the group on his "Graceland Tour of 1987", the group began touring by themselves and became very widely known. They have visited Europe, USA, and Asia, amongst others. The group is quite possibly better known in the USA (after the Graceland success and various advert campaigns for 7-Up and Life Savers candy) and the UK (again, because of the Graceland success, and several successful advertisements for Heinz).


The group usually tours eight months of the year before returning to South Africa (usually during the Christmas holiday). The group finished a four-month tour of the US in April 2006, and a follow-up 30-date tour of the UK (from 5 May through to 10 June), with the Mbaqanga trio Mahotella Queens as their support act. Mambazo started a summer tour on 9 July 2006 with concerts in the US, Australia and New Zealand, ending in October 2006. The same month, the group performed a special concert entitled Long Walk to Freedom: An Evening with Ladysmith Black Mambazo at New York's Carnegie Hallmarker (see 2006-present for more details). In January 2007, the group commenced a three-month tour of the US and followed this up with concerts in Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The group did another tour of the UK (their largest so far, spanning 34 dates), from October to November 2007. In that tour, the group was supported by Vusi Mahlasela (Mahlasela had joined the group previously on a 2004 UK tour). The group completed a three month tour of the US, starting January 2008, and performed a single June date in Washington following that. October and November 2008 saw the group performing a variety of dates scattered across North America and Canada, and Europe, and in particular, Hollandmarker. Mambazo undertook a three-month US tour (finishing in mid-March 2009); June saw a tour of Asia and Australia, and the months of October and November are reserved for a 31-date tour of the UK.


Initially, the group was formed of Joseph Shabalala, his brothers Headman and Enoch, cousins Albert, Milton, Funokwakhe, Abednego and Joseph Mazibuko as well as close friends Matovoti Msimanga and Walter Malinga. Altogether, the group has had over 30 different members at one point or another over the past forty-five years.

Even though the early line-ups of the group contained a large amount of relatives from Shabalala's family (and, from 1969, his cousins from the Mazibuko family), most of the members that arrived in the group after the mid-1970s were recruited for their professional qualities. After alto voice Milton Mazibuko was murdered in 1980, the group spent quite a few months 'off', until returning the following year with two new members, Inos Phungula and Geophrey Mdletshe. After Shabalala's younger brother Headman was also murdered on December 10, 1991 (and the departure of Phungula, Mdletshe and Ben Shabalala - who was also killed in 2004), the group stopped singing for a while before Joseph recruited four of his six sons. In the 1970s, the group's original six members had been joined by many other men (most of whom only stayed with them for the recording sessions). Joseph Shabalala's sons joined the group in 1993, moving up from Ladysmith Black Mambazo's junior choir, Mshengu White Mambazo.

The members of the group currently reside in Kloofmarker, just outside of the coastal city of Durbanmarker in KwaZulu-Natal - though due to their heavy work schedule and appearances, the group spend only brief periods at home. The chorus' members are Joseph Shabalala; his sons Thamsanqa, Msizi, Thulani, and Sibongiseni; cousins Albert and Abednego Mazibuko; and close friends Russel Mthembu and Ngane Dlamini. Jabulani Dubazana, a member of the group since 1975, retired from international touring in September 2004. Long-time member Jockey Shabalala died at his home in Ladysmithmarker, South Africa on 11 February 2006. He was 62, and was a member of the group for almost forty years.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo first recorded in 1973 on the Gallo label in South Africa. Since then the group has recorded over 50 albums, many of which have received gold- and/or platinum-disc certification.


  1. Erlmann, V: "Nightsong", page 291-92. The University of Chicago Press, 1996
  2. Shabalala, J: "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom". New Video Group, 2004
  3. Erlmann, V: "Nightsong", interview with Joseph Shabalala (page 294). The University of Chicago Press, 1996
  4. Maile, Sam R.: Amabutho, liner notes. Gallo Record Company, 1973
  5. Simonson, E: "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom", interview with Joseph Shabalala. New Video Group, 2004
  6. Erlmann, V: "Nightsong", interview with Joseph Shabalala (page 292). The University of Chicago Press, 1996
  7. Erlmann, V: "Nightsong", page 293. The University of Chicago Press, 1996
  8. Simonson, E: "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom", interview with Patrick Buthelezi (Radio Zulu announcer). New Video Group, 2004
  9. Nkosi, W: "Ezulwini Siyakhona", liner notes. Gallo Record Company, 1986
  10. Simonson, E: "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom", interview with Paul Simon on the Apartheid system. New Video Group, 2004
  11. Classic Albums - Graceland (interviews with Paul Simon), Harcourt Films - Isis Productions, 1997
  12. Mankwane, M: Mahlathini, Mahotella Queens and Makgona Tsohle Band - Mbaqanga at its Best!, interviews with Marks Mankwane and Mildred Mangxola. Gallo Record Company, 1997
  13. Simonson, E: "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom", interview with Paul Simon. New Video Group, 2004
  14. Simonson, E: "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom", interviews with Sibongiseni, Thamsanqa and Thulani Shabalala. New Video Group, 2004
  15. Shabalala, J: Liph' Iqiniso, liner notes and lyrics. Gallo Record Company, 1993
  16. Shabalala, J: Adam Boulton Meets Ladysmith Black Mambazo, interviews with members of the group. Sky News, 1999
  17. Boulton, A: Adam Boulton Meets Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Sky News, 1999
  18. Simonson, E: "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom". New Video Group, 2004
  19. news report, Tragedy Strikes Ladysmith Black Mambazo [1].
  20. IOL news report, Shabalala's Son Walks Free [2].
  21. Shabalala, J: Wenyukela, liner notes. Gallo Record Company, 2003
  22. Make Trade Fair - Ladysmith Black Mambazo section, accessed August 13, 2006.
  23. South African Press Association, article on release of Raise Your Spirit Higher in the US, 2004
  24. Williamson, N: "Long Walk to Freedom", liner notes. Heads Up International, 2006
  25. ITV London Tonight, interview with Joseph Shabalala during the Ladysmith Black Mambazo UK tour, May-June 2006; retrieved 7 May 2006.
  26. Heads Up International page on Ladysmith Black Mambazo's street team
  27. Ladysmith Black Mambazo tour blog [3], entry entitled "Mavis Staples & Ry Cooder". Retrieved 3 September 2006.
  28. Ladysmith Black Mambazo tour blog [4], entry entitled "We're still in outer space". Retrieved 3 September, 2006.
  29. Ladysmith Black Mambazo homepage [5], entry entitled "Ladysmith Black Mambazo to perform at New York's Carnegie Hall with Special Friends". Retrieved 19 September, 2006.
  30. Harp Magazine, "Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Shabalala To Retire, Names Successor". Retrieved January 24, 2008.
  31. Simonson, E: "On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom", commentary by Joseph Shabalala on the Durban YMCA competitions of 2004. New Video Group, 2004
  32. Ladysmith Black Mambazo tour page; list of current tour dates
  33. Erlmann, V: "Nightsong", brief history of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (page 93). The University of Chicago Press, 1996
  34. Erlmann, V: "Nightsong", page 93. The University of Chicago Press, 1996


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