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Ladysmith Black Mambazo is generally described as being an "a capella" group, and that is technically correct, but their style is more accurately described as "Isicathamiya" - it's traditional Zulu music, in a somewhat nontraditional style.

And you've probably heard them, too, though you might not know where - The most prominent example are two songs on Paul Simon's Graceland album ("Homeless", and "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes"). More recently, they have provided the music for a number of TV ads: in the US, there are at least two for Lifesavers, one for IBM (released in 1994! I could have sworn it was more recent than that!), one for 7 Up (in the pre-"Make 7 Up Yours" days..). In Britain, they (apparently) became a household name after a Heinz soup ad, and the one for 7 Up has made appearances there as well.

Onward:

The name? Well, let's break it down:

  1. Ladysmith: their home town, a township in South Africa
  2. Black: yes, they are "black", given that they are native Africans, but in this context, it refers to black oxen, which are typically the strongest oxen on your typical Zulu farm
  3. Mambazo: Zulu for "the axe", which symbolizes their ability to "chop down the competition" - competitions being, after all, where the group first honed its skills.

The group was founded by Joseph Shabalala in 1964, and currently includes four of his six sons, Msizi, Thulani, Thamsanqa, and Sibongiseni, one of his brothers, Jockey, cousins Abednego and Albert Mazibuko, and last, but not least, Russel Mthembu and Jabulani Dubazana, one of whom is an uncle, the other of whom is a brother-in-law, although which is which, I have been unable to piece together...

Another of Joseph's brothers, Headman, was a member until he was killed in December 1991, by an off-duty security guard, who served three months of house arrest for his crime. When asked what the group would do without Headman, shortly after the slaying, Joseph's response was, "We will sing. That is what we do."

Adding further tragedy, in May of 2002, Nellie Shabalala, Joseph's wife, was murdered, apparently by a hitman, at their home in Clermont, Kwazulu-Natal. Joseph's oldest son, Nkosinathi, is suspected to have hired the hitman and provided details that enabled him to carry out the killing. Nellie was a local pastor as well as a singer and the leader of her own choral group, Woman Of Mambazo. She and Joseph had been married since 1972, but did not have any children together.

their website, with more information, is www.mambazo.com. If you want to give them a listen, EMusic (www.emusic.com) has a good number of their albums in mp3 format.


on Nellie's murder (thanks to Frankie for relaying the news):
http://www.suntimes.co.za/2002/06/02/news/news09.asp
http://www.suntimes.co.za/2003/02/23/news/news28.asp

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