Grammy Award-winning all-male choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo at the weekend showed Johannesburg’s music lovers why they are still going strong after more than five decades of enthralling audiences.
It has been two years since their iconic founder and leader Joseph Shabalala retired, but the group that sings in the vocal styles of isicathamiya and mbube, remain as vibrant as they did when Paul Simon was captivated by their mesmerising performances and co-opted them on his 1996 album Graceland.
Apart from family bonds that run deep within the group, they have shared values and a common vision, which have resulted in years of success.
Joseph Shabalala – the glue that held them together since their formation 56 years ago – inculcated these values well. Even now without him, Black Mambazo still exudes mutual respect among the singers.
Since its formation, more than 30 different men have been part of Black Mambazo, which has a permanent singing lineup of nine members.
The group has produced more than 30 albums since releasing their first in 1973, including their highly successful collaboration on Graceland.
They have also won countless other awards across the globe and collaborated with international icons, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Dolly Parton, to name but a few.
Locally they have collaborated with PJ Powers, The Soil, MiCasa and Zahara. Black Mambazo has also collaborated with other African artists including Oliver Mtukudzi and Salif Keita.
But now, only two founding members remain in the nine-member group, cousins Albert and Abednego Mazibuko, who joined in 1969 and 1974 respectively. Ndoda Russel Mthembu, who joined in 1975, has also retired and his place has been taken by his son.
At a sold-out Joburg Theatre on Saturday and Sunday, the group staged a “Ladysmith Black Mambazo Night of Legends Concert”, a special 56th anniversary celebration.
The audience was enthralled with popular hits such as Homeless, Nomathemba, Ofana Naye, Leli Lungelo Ngelakho and Phansi Emgodini.
For many local fans, Black Mambazo have become a rarity, as they are usually booked for world tours. Their popularity transcends South Africa’s borders and goes way beyond the African continent.
This year Black Mambazo has twice toured the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Italy.
They did, however, perform at the Naledi Theatre Awards in April, at Gold Reef City, during their break from international duty.
However, Joseph Shabalala’s retirement has robbed the group of a steady guiding hand and an instantly recognisable face, voice and figure.
But it seems the legacy he founded and left behind continues to flourish after he has passed the baton to his offspring.
Shabalala’s four sons – Msizi, Thulani, Sibongiseni and Thamsanqa – are all great musicians, but they are not natural leaders like their father was and as a result they tend to rotate leading roles – somewhat a shift from the group’s tradition.
But despite the seemingly impossible challenge of filling Shabalala’s big shoes, his sons are taking it in their stride. They continue to satisfy their fans in numbers. They still draw large crowds and perform at sold-out concerts all over the world.
Their father used to allow fans from the audience to join them on stage and sing – and this interactive part of their performance has remained intact.
On Sunday when the opportunity arose, it was evident how eager fans were to be scripted in the history of the iconic Black Mambazo, as they jostled for a chance to go on stage.
Though it’s been tough and long, the journey in the new era has only just begun for Black Mambazo.
Black Mambazo may have a difficult task of emulating the achievements they enjoyed under Joseph Shabalala’s leadership, but they are set on trying to raise the bar set by their founder.
The good thing for Black Mambazo is that there are millions of new fans waiting to to enthralled, even as the generations come and go.
– African News Agency (ANA)