Joseph Shabalala

The history of this Zulu music dates back to the 19th century when South African diamond miners would have song and dance celebrations on Saturday nights. Following complaints about the loud music (and even some broken floors in the huts), a new form of quieter dance was created called cothoza mfana. The Zulu music that accompanied this dancing was called isicathamiya (“tip toe guys” in Zulu). Back then and even today there were many competitions between singing groups in the black townships.

Joseph Shabalala was born on August 28, 1941 in Ladysmith, South Africa. As a teenager he was a singer and guitarist, and played with a well known group called the Devan Choir. After spending two years in Durban, Shabalala founded his own isicathamiya group in 1960. This initial group was not dedicated enough to learn all of Shabalala’s new music, so in 1964 he formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo, an all male a capella isicathamiya singing group made up of family and friends from his hometown of Ladysmith. Shabalala’s new group was able to perform the music as this South African tradition required -- with vibrant rhythms, joyful voices, and thundering choruses followed by almost whisper-like harmonies. The name of the group includes the word “Mambazo” (Zulu for “axe”), reflecting the group’s success at cutting down competition.

Initially, most of Ladysmith’s lyrics were in the Zulu language but after gaining popularity with other African ethnic groups and white audiences, Joseph Shababala began to write in other African languages and in English. It was his goal to use his music as a unifying force to bring people of different cultures together.

Although they had already recorded 25 albums with great popularity in Africa, they first received major global recognition following their work with American singer Paul Simon with the two songs that they contributed to his hit album Graceland, “Homeless” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Acclaim for this album allowed Ladysmith to travel and perform internationally, despite the difficulties of the cultural boycott against South Africa during the anti-Apartheid movement. Initially, Shabalala and his group were criticized for a perceived lack of political awareness in breaking the international ban against South Africa, however in the end they were considered helpful in dissolving the apartheid regime since they were appreciated so much by international audiences and their music also contained metaphorical criticisms of the apartheid regime.

Considered by Nelson Mandela to be South Africa’s cultural ambassadors to the world, they accompanied him to Sweden in 1993, performing in the celebration following Mandela’s acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize. They also performed six months later when he was inaugurated as the President of South Africa.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has now recorded over 40 albums and has worked with Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, Julia Fordham, The Wynans, Phoebe Snow and Dolly Parton. Their first album on Warner Brothers, Shaka Zulu, won a Grammy award in 1987 in the category of Best Traditional Folk Recording. They have been featured on soundtracks for major films including Moonwalker (Michael Jackson), A Dry White Season (Marlon Brando), Let’s Do It A Capella (Spike Lee), Coming to America (Eddie Murphy), and Cry The Beloved Country (James Earl Jones). Worldwide audiences have seen them through appearances on Sesame Street and in commercials for 7-Up, Lifesavers Candy, Heinz Soup and IBM. Joseph Shabalala is currently working on the creation of the Mambazo Academy of African Music and Culture in South Africa.

Joseph Shabalala — Mbube – Nansi Imali

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

A South African “call and response” piece in the popular style known as mbube, made famous by the a capella singing group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. A black township miners’ song (“There’s Money”) by lead singer Joseph Shabalala, as transcribed by Stephen Barber and arranged by Adam Lesnick. Beautiful rhythmic harmonies with vocal inflections and optional improv for the hornist.

Suited for:


For Woodwind Quintet, 6 minutes.
WW5-0108 . . . $30.00

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