Over the last 40 years, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has taken their combination of South African musical traditions and Christian gospel music beyond the stage to become a cultural force.Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by farmboy turned factory worker Joseph Shabalala, the group took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo — Ladysmith being the name of Shabalala’s rural hometown; Black being a reference to oxen; and Mambazo being the Zulu word for axe.
In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Black Mambazo’s rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his Graceland album. Simon produced Black Mambazo’s first U.S. release, Shaka Zulu, which won a Grammy in 1988 for Best Traditional Folk Album. Since then, the group has scored eight more Grammy nominations for their inspirational songs.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s latest release, Long Walk to Freedom, celebrates 25 years of democracy in the Republic of South Africa. Critics have said “Shabalala and company have long been known as inspiring good guys. Long Walk is a reminder that they’re plenty of fun, too.”
Shabalala has taken the group’s success in stride, noting that the goal is simply “to bring this gospel of loving one another all over the world.” “Without hearing the lyrics, this music gets into the blood, because it comes from the blood,” Shabalala said. It evokes enthusiasm and excitement, regardless of what you follow spiritually.”