The world-renowned Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs at 7 p.m. March 21 in the mainstage theater at the Mattie Kelly Arts Center in Niceville to benefit public radio affiliate WUWF. Tickets are $35 and may be purchased at 850-729-6000 or www.mattiekellyartscent
Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Shabalala, then a young farmboy-turned-factory-worker, the group took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo from the name of Shabalala’s rural hometown — Ladysmith.
The group borrows heavily from a traditional music called isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-Ya), which developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Poorly housed and paid worse, the mine workers would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours on Sunday morning. When the miners returned to the homelands, this musical tradition returned with them.
In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Black Mambazo’s rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his Graceland album — a landmark 1986 recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences. A year later, Simon produced Black Mambazo’s first U.S. release, “Shaka Zulu", which won a Grammy Award in 1988.
Since then, the group has been awarded two more Grammy Awards and has been nominated a total of 15 times. According to Simon, “It isn’t merely the grace and power of their dancing or the beauty of their singing that rivets the attention, but the sheer joy and love that emanates from their being."
In addition to their work with Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with numerous artists from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge, and many others. Their film work includes a featured appearance in Michael Jackson’s "Moonwalker" video and Spike Lee’s "Do It A Cappella.” They’ve provided soundtrack material for Disney’s "The Lion King, Part II" as well as Eddie Murphy’s "Coming To America,” Marlon Brando’s "A Dry White Season,” Sean Connery’s "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” James Earl Jones’ "Cry The Beloved Country" and Clint Eastwood’s "Invictus.” A film documentary titled "On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, the story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo", was nominated for an Academy Award.