Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

February 4, 2013

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
UMASS Fine Arts Center, Amherst, MA
January 30, 2013
by Eric Sutter

For 50 years, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has taken its message of peace, love, and harmony around the world through their unique musical fusion of traditional South African and Christian gospel music. The group crosses cultural boundaries with musical messages in an Isicathamiya (a cappella) choral style. Intricate rhythms and nature effects combined with their glorious voices to create sounds that mystified the audience.

The nine-man troupe began with the chant, "I Love My Brothers and Sisters”. This beautiful music is so joyful it crossed the entire emotional spectrum, evoking enthusiasm and excitement regardless of spiritual direction. Love songs and folk songs weaved vivid imagery that transported one to another place. "Uthekwane" (The Prettiest Bird), from their latest CD "Songs from a Zulu Farm" brought forth singing in Zulu and English. Funky dancing and clowning ensued -- high Zulu leg kicks, hand claps and foot stomps enhanced the musical vision. Lead singer Joseph Shabalala led the group with his high tenor as alto and bass voices harmonized on the first song he wrote, "Nomathemba”. Passing the tradition on, his youngest son sang lead falsetto on the love song "Hello By Baby," which raised spirits high with some smooth hip-shakin' dance moves. Some pieces described their beautiful jungle homeland with bush calls, whistles, and bird sounds.

The second half celebrated Mambazo's worldwide recognition from Paul Simon's landmark 1986 recording, "Graceland" with a wonderful rendition of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes." Their body language expressed lots of joy, with literal body movement light on their feet on the tips of toes. "Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain" from 2006's "Long Walk to Freedom" was a soulful nature ballad. The Paul Simon penned "Homeless" was well received. The group is superior at expression of universal joy and sadness through music. The South African folk song, "Shosholoza" or "Down In The Mines" was sung as audience participated, clapping to the beat. Mambazo encored with the hopeful message of "Amazing Grace”.