Ladysmith Black Mambazo bringing ‘a lot of happy music’ to Wittenberg

Albert Mazibuko recalls joking with his cousin, Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala, early in their careers that they would have to still be singing when they had gray hair and couldn’t walk straight.

Fifty years later, Mazibuko is still walking straight, sporting a little gray and singing.

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The interim has seen Ladysmith Black Mambazo go from a group intent on sharing its South African heritage through song and dance to becoming the most successful world music artists of all time, due in no small part to its message of peace and love.

“What our music is about is staying strong, staying away from violence, being peaceful, telling a story of history,” Mazibuko said.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo will share its message through song and dance when it performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26 at Wittenberg University’s Weaver Chapel, presented by the Wittenberg Series.

Admission is free.

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Founded when apartheid upheld racial segregation in South Africa, the group’s name was inspired by its local heritage. Ladysmith is Shabalala’s hometown; Black refers to the black oxen, the strongest of farm animals in the area; and Mambazo being the Zulu word for chopping axe, a reference to the group’s vocal ability.

“Joseph was always telling us stop the fighting,” Mazibuko said. “Our music from the beginning was to inspire other ways of life.”

While Ladysmith enjoyed success, it was a 1986 collaboration with Paul Simon that led to stardom. Simon, searching for unique sound for his upcoming “Graceland” album, found it with Ladysmith, who performed live with him and on television, broadening its audience as the album captured sales and Grammy Awards.

Ladysmith has also grabbed several Grammy nominations and five awards over the years, most recently for a 2017 album, and performing for movie soundtracks.

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One of its great compliments was inspiring Nelson Mandela when he was in prison. Mandela, who would later become South African president, said it was Ladysmith’s music that kept him going.

While Shabalala has retired from performing, his son and several multi-generations of performers have kept Ladysmith going like family. Mazibuko likes being an example with his younger mates and it humbles him.

As for his longevity in the group, Mazibuko estimates another 15 to 20 years could be possible.

Mazibuko said Ladysmith Black Mambazo is especially proud to be performing in the United States for Black History Month.

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“We are always grateful for American support; it is a beautiful country because people get together on common ground. Black History Month reminds us as human beings in this world we have to strive to get along with others,” he said.

For the show here, Mazibuko said to expect 10 microphones and performers in colorful shirts ready to dance and celebrate their culture.

“It’s a lot of happy music that will warm you up if you are cold and celebrate life,” he said.


What: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Where: Weaver Chapel, Wittenberg University, 200 W. Ward St., Springfield

When: Tuesday, Feb. 26, 7:30 p.m.

Admission: Free

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