« A busy return visit by the King's Singers | Main | Member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo dies »

February 14, 2006

Perfect Harmony

Washington Post (DC):

You don't go to a Ladysmith Black Mambazo show for innovation; you go to be reminded that the human voice is the most beautiful sound on Earth. Nearly 2,000 people had that thought confirmed when South Africa's premier vocal-harmony group performed at sold-out Strathmore on Thursday.

Deeply religious bandleader Joseph Shabalala formed the first version of Ladysmith in 1964 after having a dream about combining Heaven-sent harmonies with isicathamiya, the South African singing and dance style that developed in the country's mines during apartheid. Because of the band's singular devotion to Shabalala's vision, Ladysmith performances are heavily scripted: from the rehearsed song intros and the matching outfits (African shirts, black pants, red socks, white tennis shoes) to the vaudevillian shtick and staged banter among the singers. But no matter how many times you see Ladysmith in concert, if you close your eyes and just listen to the music, the gorgeousness of their collective voices override the deja vu.

Seven of the 13 songs Ladysmith performed were from "Long Walk to Freedom," a collection of rerecorded greatest hits featuring guest stars such as Melissa Etheridge and Natalie Merchant. It's been 20 years since Paul Simon introduced Ladysmith to the world with his album "Graceland," and on the new CD and in concert the band revisited Simon and Shabalala's "Homeless." While the song is still lovely after all these years, it was condensed by Ladysmith concert standards; the live versions of "Nomathemba," "Hello My Baby," "Rain Rain Beautiful Rain" and "Long Walk to Freedom" each ran well over six minutes.

Many of the tunes climaxed with the group repeating a phrase or two from the lyrics as Shabalala riffed through numerous themes and variations on the melody. When not using guttural noises, joyous whoops and Zulu-language clicks, Shabalala would complement the other seven vocalists' harmonies with ghostly tenor phrases just off mike. Be glad that the dream still haunts him.

Posted by acapnews at February 14, 2006 12:08 AM