Ladysmith Black Mambazo In-depth Biography
Ladysmith Black Mambazo} was founded by Joseph Shabalala} in 1974. They've cut well over 30 albums since, but the group did not become well known outside of South Africa until Paul Simon} asked them to perform on Graceland}.
Shabalala} was born into a poor family that lived on a White man's farm near the town of Ladysmith. There were eight children in the Shabalala} family, and, as the oldest boy, it was Joseph}'s duty to take care of the family after his father died.
Shabalala}'s first musical experience, save for a bit of fooling around on the guitar, came with a choral group called the Blacks}. Shabalala} eventually took over leadership of the group and became its main composer. The Blacks} won most of the local vocal competitions and became the most popular Zulu vocal group, but Shabalala} felt that something was missing. "I had been hearing a voice inside me," Shabalala} said. "I didn't know it, but it was the voice of God." When the voice told him to fast, Shabalala} obeyed, and on his fast, he had a vision of a new kind of vocal music. Shortly thereafter he became a Christian. Taking the choral music he heard in the Christian church, he combined it with the Zulu tradition to create his own style.
When the Blacks} refused to take part in Shabalala}'s experiments, he formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo}. The group consists of seven bass voices, an alto, a tenor, and Shabalala} singing lead. The combo immediately began releasing albums at a staggering rate, offering a massive catalog of vocal music. Even if you don't speak Zulu, when they hit a low rumbling note, you can literally feel the power of their voices in your body.
"In Zulu singing there are three major sounds," Shabalala} explains. "A high keening ululation; a grunting, puffing sound that we make when we stomp our feet; and a certain way of singing melody. Before Black Mambazo} you didn't hear these three sounds in the same songs. So it is new to combine them, although it is still done in a traditional style. We are just asking God to allow us to polish it, to help keep our voices in order so we can praise Him and uplift the people." ~ J. Poet, All Music Guide