Annenberg Center


Ladysmith Black Mambazo rediscovers idyllic past

March 18, 2011

Friday, 18 March 2011 Bobbi Booker
Philadelphia Tribune Staff Writer

Since their earliest recordings, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has maintained a respect and a reverence for their past. The centuries-old story of their homeland — sometimes joyous, sometimes troubled, but always rich and exhilarating — has been at the very foundation of this vocal group since its very beginning. Ladysmith's international image was boosted after their best-selling collaboration with Paul Simon for his 1986 “Graceland” album. The group of South African musicians helped open the word's eyes to their cullture, and the historic changes of their homeland.

Yet there’s a quieter, more personal past shared by the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo — a time of youth and innocence, when the world consisted of nothing more than the hills and open fields of their parents’ farms in Zulu country. Before the stage performances, before the collaborations with other artists, before the Grammy awards, before all of that and so much more, the only songs these children knew were the traditional folk tunes handed down to them by their parents, their grandparents and the countless generations that preceded them. Their new recording,”Songs From A Zulu Farm (Razor & Tie),” is a return to the idyllic world in which they once lived in their youth. Long-standing member Albert Mazibuko says this is their most personal work to date. Included among the 16 tracks is “Old McDonald … Zulu Style,” a South African rendition of the well known children’s song, “Old McDonald Had a Farm.” This original classic is reworked in ways never before imagined as it is piped through the language and culture of the Zulu people.

“This was an album that made us laugh a lot while we were doing it,” said Mazibuko. “Even in the studio, there was no pressure like there usually is when you're doing music in the studio, so we could focus and listen to your feleings. Doing this kind of music and these songs it was always bringing this joy like when you were a kid. You know, you would be amazed even on stage singing these songs because there is so much laughter. It brings that kind of innocence where you don't worry about anything and you just enjoy yourself.”

There are various traditional tunes taken directly from the Zulu culture. Some are cautionary tales: “Imithi Gobakahle” (“Children Come Home”) calls the children inside when the skies grow dark and a rainstorm threatens, while “Ekhaya” (“Don’t Leave Home too Soon”) encourages teenagers to stay with their families until they are truly ready to live on their own. Other songs are about the various mischievous and troublesome animals so prevalent in Zulu country: “Ntulube” (“Away, You River Snakes”), is an attempt to chase snakes and frogs out of the river to make the water better for swimming, while “Uthekwane” (“The Prettiest Bird?”) is an ode to a vain bird who boasts of her beauty to the other animals. Toward the end of the CD, Ladysmith founder and frontman Joseph Shabalala, 70, professes his love and longing for the times and places of his youth in “Thalaza,” a song he composed to encourage people of every nation and culture to reconnect to innocence of their younger years.

“These are songs from the earliest time in our lives,” says Shabalala. “These are stories our fathers and mothers and other relatives shared with us, songs our grandparents sang. These songs represent an important memory of our early life. When we sing these songs, we’re singing songs from our history. It is such a joy for us to put these stories and songs together for our fans to enjoy too.”

While “Songs From A Zulu Farm” may originate from the culture of South Africa, it speaks to certain joys of childhood that are universal. “There are children being told — or being sung — stories that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives,” explains Shabalala. “These are the same stories and songs that they too will share with their children. We hope that these songs sung to children in South Africa can be shared with and enjoyed by families in other places in the world.”

Ladysmith Black Mambazo returns to the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut Street, for a special one-night-only performance on Friday, March 18 at 8 p.m. Ticket holders will have the unique opportunity to attend a special pre-show artist chat with group member Albert Mazibuko and manager Mitch Goldstein. The chat, facilitated by Carol Muller, is part of the Annenberg Center’s Artists & Audiences Changing Lives program and begins at 7 p.m. To learn more about the Artists & Audiences Changing Lives program, visit Annenberg For more information, visit or call (215) 898-3900.