South Africa's masters of a cappella harmony
Ladysmith Black Mambazo recently celebrated more than 50 years of joyous and uplifting music. Within this music are the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native South African musical traditions. 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. Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Joseph Shabalala, then a young farm boy turned factory worker, the group took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Ladysmith is the name of Joseph’s hometown, about three hours west of Durban and three hours east of Johannesburg; Black being a reference to the oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo being the Zulu word for chopping axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to "chop down" any singing rival who might challenge them. A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract—the beginning of an ambitious discography that currently includes more than 50 recordings (including Paul Simon's "Graceland") and has earned three Grammy awards.