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March 4, 2004

Smoky Mountain News

If you want to lower your blood pressure, the high health priests say, simply watch an aquarium. All those beautiful fish, swimming around with such languid lack of purpose, will leave you feeling calm and at peace with the world. You can feel your fists unclenching, and before long, the little dents your fingernails make in your palms will be but a distant memory. Ah, sweet bliss! Ladysmith Black Mambazo has the same effect on me. Their full-throated a capella chorus never fails to soothe; there is something relaxing, and joyful, in that sound. The songs are a sweet caress in a rough and tumble world, and every last one sounds like a lullaby. Ladysmith Black Mambazo could sing a song about my wife leaving me, my car breaking down, and my dog getting hit by a train, and I'm sure I'd find it pleasing -particularly if they were considerate enough to sing it in Zulu.

And so it goes on Raise Your Spirit Higher, the latest release from the South African stalwarts. There's a song about racism on there, a song about seatbelts (!), and a wedding celebration, but without the benefit of liner notes, you'd be hard-pressed to tell which is which. (I know, I know: when the Zulu craze hit, you were busy boning up on your Xhosa. Me too.) For us stateside mother-tongue music fans, the Ladysmith lyrics are lost among the intricate clicks, whoops, and inkululekos of the backing choir. No matter: above it all soars Joseph Shabalala's beautiful, breathy tenor, surely one of the most recognizable voices out of Africa.

Here's a tip for you audiophiles: next time you go to the speaker store, leave behind your Stones, your Santana, your Flatt & Scruggs. Instead, slip in a disc of an a capella band with a great bass singer. The Persuasions' Jimmy Hayes gives a fine test of the low end, and Ladysmith boasts up to seven members singing bass at once. Basso profundo indeed. More

Posted by acapnews at March 4, 2004 12:35 AM


I can't wait for the Greenville, SC show. Does anyone know what venue will be used?

Posted by: inwestycje at October 4, 2011 7:18 AM

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