The soulful voices of the internationally acclaimed South African choral group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, will fill the Prospect Park Bandshell once again at Celebrate Brooklyn this month.
Joseph Shabalala, who is Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s founder and leader, said that his passion for music stems from musical get-togethers that were held in the communal setting of his village.
“I clearly remember my upbringing on our family farm in South Africa. We had no electronic entertainment, no TV, radio or record player, so our large family would gather many nights and sing songs and dance. This was the seed to my musical passion,” said Shabalala.
The multi-award winning all-male ensemble was founded nearly half a century ago. As of today, the only two remaining original members are Shabalala and Albert Mazibuko.
The choral group specializes in two singing styles dubbed isicathamiya and mbube; the former emphasizes harmony while the latter prizes loud and powerful singing.
For Ladysmith Black Mambazo, their namesake reflects on South African tradition and pride. While “Black” and “Mambazo” are Zulu terms for “oxen” and “axe,” Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Nata is where Shabalala grew up.
“Ladysmith is a beautiful small town, and much more developed than many people imagine,” said Shabalala. “It’s where my roots are.”
Touring takes Shabalala and Mazibuko far away from home, but is necessary for the musicians’ far-reaching goals.
“I do miss [South Africa] when I am away, but there is excitement in traveling, singing for fans and meeting new people. It’s a duality I think many musicians have to deal with,” said Shabalala.
Mazibuko, who has been with the group since 1969, said their travels are a necessary part of their goals as artist.
“Sharing our music and culture with people all over the world is our mission and we are very serious about it,” he said.
The singers are also fueled by the positive feedback about their music’s healing qualities.
“Many times, people let us know that either themselves, family members or friends have a serious illness and that our music has helped them deal with the situation. This is a very emotional to us,” said Shabalala. “If our singing can bring peace to someone then there is nothing better.”
The group’s music is so uplifting that South Africa’s “father of the nation,” Nelson Mandela, requested they accompany him to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo broke through to even wider audiences after Paul Simon approached them to collaborate on his 1986 album, “Graceland.” Shabalala expressed his appreciation for the ground-breaking opportunity, calling Simon “Vulindlela.”
“In English, it means, ‘He who opened the gate,’ which is what Paul did for us,” he said.
“Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Celebrate Brooklyn” at Prospect Park Bandshell [Entrance at Prospect Park West and 9th Street, (718) 683–5600, www.bricar