Ladysmith Black Mambazo

by Karin McKie

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 27, 2018

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Ladysmith Black Mambazo  

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is celebrating 58 years as a groundbreaking international choral group, 23 years of democracy in their home country of South Africa, and a recent Best World Music Album Grammy, their fifth, for "Shaka Zulu Revisited" (they also received a Best Children's Album nomination for "Songs of PEACE & LOVE for Kids and Parents Around the World").

The nine singers brought their signature a cappella isicathamiya and mbube music to a grateful audience of aging white folks and, refreshingly, some children. They wore teal tunics and black pants, with red socks and white shoes to highlight their Rockettes-face-high-style, indlamu synchronized dance kicks. They shared introduction duties and synched up their bobbing and weaving, air guitar motions and proto-Motown gyrations.

Americans likely first heard the group on Paul Simon's 1986 "Graceland" album, and they included the hits "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" and "Homeless" in this program.

Founder Joseph Shabalala was shot in 1991, but, alongside some founding and newer members, his three sons are now in the group to carry on his passionate bass warbling.

"Long Walk to Freedom" chronicled the journey of famous countryman Nelson Mandela, where they chant, "Good boy, carry on / Well done, you did a good job, carry on." They pine for love lost with "How long should I wait for you, baby?" They celebrate multi-culturalism by saying "Different colors and languages mean nothing to me." Their encore was "Shosholoza":


Push, push, pushing on and on

There's much to be done


Push, push, pushing in the sun

We will push as one

Their singing was like rhythmic breath: A heartbeat that rose with trills and power, then ended with a unified sigh. They remind us, as perhaps the original embodiment of African-proud, Black Panther superheroes, that "Step by step, there comes a day we are all praying for."

Ladysmith Black Mambazo played at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave on February 20th -

The band continues to tour the US through March 13th, then heads to Europe for May dates -

Karin McKie is a writer, educator and activist at