We here at Austin City Limits are saddened to learn of the death of singer and teacher Joseph Shabalala, founder of South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who appeared on ACL in 2006. He was 78.
He was born Bhekizizwe Joseph Siphatimandla Mxoveni Mshengu Bigboy Shabalala in 1941 in the town of Ladysmith (eMnambithi district) in the KwaZulu-Natal region of South Africa. In the late fifties he joined the Durban Choir, leaving them two years later when they refused to perform his original songs. He founded his own isicathamiya group the Blacks in 1959, renaming them Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 1960. The group signed a recording contract in 1972, selling 40,000 copies of their first album Amabutho, making it South Africa’s first gold-selling record. Ladysmith Black Mambazo continued to be popular in its home country, but gained international fame after appearing on singer/songwriter Paul Simon’s Grammy-winning 1986 LP Graceland, specifically the songs “Diamonds on the Souls of Her Shoes” and “Homeless,” which Shabalala co-wrote. The group won its first Grammy in 1988 for its album Shaka Zulu, winning four more over the course of a long – and ongoing – international career. Shabalala retired from performance with Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 2014, continuing to teach choral music until his death.
Here is Shabalala on Austin City Limits in 2006, closing out the night’s performance with “Phansi.”