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Ladysmith Black Mambazo

For more than thirty years, Ladysmith Black Mambazo have married the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native South African musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music. The result is a musical and spiritual alchemy that has touched a worldwide audience representing every corner of the religious, cultural and ethnic landscape. Their musical efforts over the past three decades have garnered praise and accolades within the recording industry, but also solidified their identity as a cultural force to be reckoned with.
Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Joseph Shabalala.. and Mambazo being the Zulu word for axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to “chop down” any singing rival who might challenge them. Their collective voices were so tight and their harmonies so polished that they were eventually banned from competitions-although they were welcome to participate strictly as entertainers.

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 in 1988 for Best Traditional Folk Album. Since then, the group has scored eight more Grammy nominations.

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, The Wynans, Julia Fordham, George Clinton, The Corrs and Ben Harper. A recent film documentary titled On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, the story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award. Their performance with Paul Simon on Sesame Street is legendary and is one of the top three requested Sesame Street segments in history.

Amid the extensive worldwide touring, the ambitious recording schedule and the numerous accomplishments and accolades, tragedy struck the group in 2002 when Nellie Shabalala, Joseph’s wife of thirty years, was murdered by a masked gunman outside their church in South Africa. “At the time that this happened, I tried to take my mind deep into the spirit, because I know the truth is there,” Shabalala recalls. “In my flesh, I might be angry, I might cry, I might suspect somebody. But when I took my mind into the spirit, the spirit told me to be calm and not to worry. Bad things happen, and the only thing to do is raise your spirit higher.”

Out of this dark chapter came Raise Your Spirit Higher-Wenyukela, Black Mambazo’s brilliant debut recording on Heads Up International, released in 2004 to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of the end of apartheid. The album, which held the number one spot on the Billboard World Music chart for several months, and received national sales acclaim on Billboard's Gospel and Top Independent Album charts, was Shabalala’s message of hope and unity to a troubled world.

Given the emotional depth and very personal dimension to Raise Your Spirit Higher, it comes as no suprise that the recording scored a 2005 Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album, and was nominated for Best Surround Sound Album in a first ever category in 2005.


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