Ladysmith Black Mambazo Sustain South Africa's Voice Through Music
By Jett Wells Posted Jan 25th 2011 08:24PM
For an a cappella group that began in 1973 and won three Grammys, Ladysmith's voice is still resilient and timeless. Original member Albert Mazibuko tells PopEater the group strives to sing to more generations to come, especially with new album 'Songs from a Zulu Farm' on the way.
What did it mean to you when Nelson Mandela referred to you as cultural ambassadors of your nation?
This was the highest honor for us. To be singled out by Nelson Mandela told us that we needed to look at ourselves, as a group, differently. We truly represented our nation and had to continuously understand that responsibility.
What kind of responses do you see while touring internationally? Was it always open arms, or was it hard to translate a South African sound?
It seemed, and still seems, that people truly open their arms and minds to what we do. People understand we represent our nation and culture and want to share this with everyone. People seem to want to embrace what we offer.
Do you see the group as more about music or sending a message, acting as teachers?
That is an interesting question. I think the message is most important, but we use the music to deliver the message. And in doing so we want to be teachers. It's really all as one -- very intertwined for us. I guess we see ourselves as teachers bringing a message through our singing.
Watch a live performance by Ladysmith Black Mambazo:
How's the progress with the Mambazo Academy? Is it completely built yet?
Sadly, the progress is very slow. There are so many things changing in South Africa and only a little bit of money to go around. We do spend most of our spare time, when we are home, teaching the young ones about the culture and its history. But doing so in an organized academy has not occurred.
You've collaborated with so many notable musicians like Michael Jackson, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. What's your best memory from those experiences?
Yes, we have been honored to be asked by so many famous and important people, so to pick just one out is very difficult. Of course the Paul Simon memory is the most important for us. We recently worked with Josh Groban, and I think this was different because he is of a new generation, and when we met him he showed that he really loved what we do. So knowing our singing has affected a new generation of artists was touching.
You've also provided music for so many films. Do you find it surreal that moviegoers see these movies and hear your voice without knowing it?
I've met people who say, "I saw this movie and it sounded like the filmmakers copied your sound for the film," and it turns out it was us. So it is funny to see people's reactions when they learn that what they heard was actually us.
The group has shifted over the years. Which years had the best ensemble?
Well, the group we are now has been pretty steady since 1993. Since then we lost a couple of members, but 1993 was important to us. That is when our leader, Joseph Shabalala, had three of his sons join the group. This is the next generation of Mambazo. So, after us older fellas move along they will carry on for many years. Joseph has said the group is more than one or two people. It's a cultural entity that should continue on for decades.
Do you compare your success at all to that of Buena Vista Social Club? If so, what do you think of them?
I've heard of that group but I do not know their music. I think there is a community of cultural groups that should continue on for many years. They are truly one of them. I know the Chieftans too. And the Blind Boys of Alabama. I'm glad to know all of these groups have success.
Is there any kind of new music today that you like? American pop music, perhaps?
It seems a new sound or style comes along every few years, and it all has something interesting to say. I like hearing where music goes, how it changes, the sounds and styles. I have to say I most enjoy simple singing. I don't like when they use machines to manipulate voices. Pure vocal is the most beautiful sound to listen to, I feel.
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