Concert Includes Tribute to Mandela | Sat, Feb 1, 2014, at 8 pm
The Grammy-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo will stop in Storrs on a U.S. tour with its latest album Always With Us Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014. The group with the Zulu sound of a single voice despite a thick stack of harmonies, made popular on this continent three decades ago via Paul Simon’s Graceland album, will also deliver a tribute to Nelson Mandela in its 8 p.m. performance at Jorgensen.
Besides its brand new album, released Jan. 15, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is nominated for Best World Music Album for its Live: Singing for Peace Around the World. If they win at the Jan. 26, 2014, Grammy ceremony, it will be their fourth Grammy. And six days later they’ll be at UConn.
The Grammy-nominated album is dedicated to the late South African peacemaker and leader, Nelson Mandela, with proceeds going to his children’s charity.
The newest album, Always With Us, was painstakingly constructed with recorded vocals by group matriarch Nellie Shabalala, who died in 2002. Her historic singing is carefully spliced with the full a cappella sound to make a CD Shabalala’s husband and LBM founder Joseph Shabalala says, “comes from deep inside my heart. It might be more personal than anything we have shared with the world before.” The album’s material is drawn from songs Nellie sang with the choir in the township church the Shabalalas founded. The album is also the first of more than 50 LBM recordings over a 40-year history that features female Zulu vocalists singing traditional songs.
Fifty years ago, Joseph Shabalala was a young farmboy recently gone to factory work from his town “Ladysmith” when he created this group that continues to sell out world-renowned concert halls. In its name, “Black” is a reference to the Zulu word for “oxen,” the strongest of farm animals, and “Mambazo” represents the “axe” that “chops down” all competitors. Indeed, this group was so accomplished it was ultimately banned from vocal competitions in its native land but would still appear as featured entertainers.
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. This musical tradition, rich with culture and spirituality, returned home with them.
After Paul Simon incorporated Black Mambazo’s harmonies into his Graceland album in 1986, he produced their first U.S. release, Shaka Zulu, which won a Grammy Award in 1988. Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge, and many others. They were featured 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 Eastwood’s Invictus. Amambazo, a musical about the group, premiered last fall in South Africa.
Paul Simon describes Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s impact thus: It isn’t merely the grace and power of their dancing or the beauty of their singing that rivets the attention, but the sheer joy and love that emanates from their being.
Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts is located at 2132 Hillside Road on the UConn campus in Storrs. Ticket prices are $40, $36 and $33, with some discounts, and $15 for youth 18 and under and non-UConn college students. For tickets and information, call the Box Office at 860.486.4226, Monday through Friday, 10 a.m.–5 p.m., or order online at jorgensen.uconn.edu. Convenient, free parking is available across the street in the North Garage.