On Wednesday, February 27, the Arlington welcomes legendary Grammy Award-winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This musically, culturally, and historically significant South African group will bring its beautiful a cappella harmonies and distinctive dancing to Santa Barbara’s receptive ears and eyes. In anticipation of this event, I recently had the opportunity to discuss a range of subjects with Ladysmith singer Albert Mazibuko.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s new album, Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu, serves as a powerful tribute to the first king of the Zulu nation. What lessons or inspirations do you hope people will find in it? King Shaka is the greatest hero in our culture. He showed an ability to rise above his personal problems, as well as problems he had with other people, to become a great man and leader. We think he should continue to inspire our people and our culture. His ability to rise above should show all others that they can rise above their own problems.
How does the group arrive at Ladysmith’s intricate sound? Lots of rehearsing. Joseph [Shabalala, the leader] works with the group members four days a week, every week, to work out the sound he’s seeking. He doesn’t come to a conclusion quickly. He likes to play with a style over and over again to see if something will come to it that he might not have thought of at first.
What are the origins of Ladysmith’s style of dancing called “tip toeing”? This comes from the 1950s and 1960s when men were working away from home for months and living together in hostels. At night they would entertain themselves with dancing. However, the traditional style of dancing could be very loud, with lots of stomping on the ground. This would upset the guards and they would make the men stop. So they developed this tip toeing quiet style of dancing that allowed them to continue entertaining themselves without involving the guards.
How does religion affect Ladysmith’s music and lifestyle? We are very religious in our lives. However, we never try to push this onto others. We respect the different ways people find their spiritual happiness. It’s just our way is through our Christian faith, and we do enjoy singing of it. What’s important is that everyone understands that they should live a life in quest of spiritual happiness, whatever way that might be for anyone. Our faith keeps us strong as we travel away from our families. We know we’re doing something important and necessary.
Many people in the United States first discovered Ladysmith’s already popular music after hearing the collaborations with Paul Simon on his 1986 Graceland album. What was the experience of collaborating with Simon like and how did it impact the group? Well, of course, it opened the gates for us. Suddenly we found ourselves traveling the world and performing for millions of people. It was so important to us because it allowed us to share our culture and tradition with others. We will never forget what Paul Simon did for us.
What is the best way for your audience to support the uplifting message of Ladysmith Black Mambazo? Part of our mission is to keep South Africa in the minds and hearts of people all over the world. Sometimes folks feel that since we finally became a free nation everything is better. It’s not and we want people to continue to think in terms of helping South Africa in any way they can. We also feel that it’s important to be the best person you can be-to help others, and to make a difference in the world and people’s lives.
Any surprises Santa Barbara fans can expect this time around? We always try to incorporate new ways of reaching our audience. We try to keep our shows new and fresh, and we think we have done this for our recent tours. It seems that everyone walks away from our concerts feeling like they’ve had a journey. A journey to South Africa and a journey away from their own world, for at least two hours : perhaps longer if we connect with them well. We hope everyone will want to see who we are and what we do. South Africa is a wonderful place and we’re truly honored that we continue to represent our homeland as we do.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs at the Arlington Theatre on Wednesday, February 27, at 8 p.m. For information call 963-4408, and for tickets go to ticketmaster.com.