Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Play Southern Theatre, 2/4

Ladysmith Black Mambazo to Play Southern Theatre, 2/4

Led by founder and leader Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo now celebrates more than 50 years of joyous and uplifting music that marries the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native South African musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music. In those years, the a cappella vocal group has created a musical and spiritual alchemy that has touched a worldwide audience representing every corner of the religious, cultural, and ethnic landscape. Their musical efforts over the past five decades have garnered praise and accolades within the recording industry, but also solidified their identity as a cultural force to be reckoned with.

CAPA presents Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the Southern Theatre (21 E. Main St.) on Tuesday, February 4, at 8 pm. Tickets are $28 and $33 at the CAPA Ticket Center (39 E. State St.), all Ticketmaster outlets, and www.ticketmaster.com. To purchase tickets by phone, please call (614) 469-0939 or (800) 745-3000. Individuals aged 13-25 may purchase $5 PNC Arts Alive All Access tickets while available. For more information, visit www.GoFor5.com.

This Spectrum Series performance is made possible through the generous support of series sponsors David and Mo Meuse and 2013-14 CAPA season sponsor American Airlines.

Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Shabalala, then a young farm boy turned factory worker, the group took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Ladysmith being the name of Shabalala's rural hometown; Black being a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo being the Zulu word for axe, a symbol of the group's ability to "chop down" any singing rival who might challenge them. Their collective voices were so tight and harmonies so polished, they were eventually banned from competitions, although they were welcome to participate strictly as entertainers.

A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract. Their philosophy in the studio was - and continues to be - just as much about preservation of musical heritage as it is about entertainment. The group borrows heavily from a traditional music called isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-ya), which developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Poorly housed and paid worse, the mine workers would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours on Sunday morning. When the miners returned to their homelands, this musical tradition returned with them.

In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Black Mambazo's rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his Graceland album - a landmark 1986 recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences. A year later, Simon produced Black Mambazo's first U.S. release, Shaka Zulu, which won a Grammy Award in 1988. Since then, the group has been awarded two more Grammy Awards and has been nominated a total of 15 times, including a nomination for their most recent release, Songs from a Zulu Farm.

In addition to their work with Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with numerous artists from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge, and many others. Their film work includes a featured appearance in Michael Jackson's Moonwalker video and Spike Lee's Do It A Cappella. They've provided soundtrack material for Disney's The Lion King Part II as well as Eddie Murphy's Coming To America, Marlon Brando's A Dry White Season, Sean Connery's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, James Earl Jones' Cry the Beloved Country, and Clint Eaastwood's Invictus. A film documentary titled On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, the story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award.

The group's most recent CD, Songs from a Zulu Farm, is a collection of traditional tunes from their youth in South Africa. It recreates the idyllic world in which the members once lived. Ladysmith Black Mambazo also released a children's CD in late 2013, titled Stories and Songs from a Zulu Farm in which they've created a narrative story to join with their recent songs for children to better understand life on a Zulu farm. This is their first children's CD since the '90s. Also in 2013, they released a live CD called Singing For Peace Around The World. In 2014, they will release a new traditional Zulu CD and an all English American Gospel recording with a famous American singer.

Photo credit: Shane Doyle

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