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May 18, 2006

REVIEW - Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The Telegraph (UK):

The warm, soothing sound of the eight-piece South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo made it perfect for the soup adverts they provided the music for a few years ago. At the start of a tour of the country with the Mahotella Queens, they are as spirited and joyous as ever, despite personnel changes (leader Joseph Shabalala's four sons are now in the group, and his brother died recently).

On record, they have been highly variable in their output, including some dubious forays into "chill-out" music and Bach and Mozart, but they retain their live fire impressively for a group that was formed 45 years ago. On their latest album, Long Walk to Freedom, are new versions of many of their best-known numbers (with assorted illustrious guests, from Emmylou Harris to Hugh Masekela) and this concert featured songs from it, such as the stately Shosholoza and the playful Hello My Baby.

Any other act borrowing the title for their album from Nelson Mandela's autobiography might be seen as presumptuous, but not only were Ladysmith Black Mambazo prominent in bearing witness to racial inequality during apartheid, they also performed at Mandela's inauguration as president of South Africa and when he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Like Mandela, their appeal is partly their mix of determination and gentleness.

They sing in a Zulu choral style called isicathamiya, developed in the coal and diamond mines by men who were often separated from their families in Durban and Johannesburg. The word isicathamiya derives from the Zulu for "to walk like a cat", and refers to the characteristic choreography where members of the group dance with the tips of their toes skimming the floor, in a graceful, feline manner.

South Africa has traditionally been a country in which vocal performance is prized above drumming, although the group provided percussive effects through slapping their thighs and their distinctive tongue clicks. The evening came to a rousing finale when the band brought on the Mahotella Queens. The tenderness and togetherness of their performance are the polar opposite of the vapid posturing of most pop groups, and listening to the soft textures of their mainly bass harmonies is like being enveloped in velvet.

Posted by acapnews at May 18, 2006 10:27 PM