New generation to see legendary Ladysmith Black Mambazo from South Africa Friday -- Gazette.Net


During his 65 years, Albert Mazibuko has gone from living under apartheid and herding cattle to living free and touring the world.

He is one of the nine members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which will visit the Music Center at Strathmore on Friday.

The legendary a capella group from South Africa will be performing some of its peace songs during the concert, which kicks off a 10-week U.S. tour.

Some of the songs are on their live concert CD called “Singing for Peace Around the World.”

They were written over time “to encourage different political organizations to stop fighting and solve problems by talking,” Mazibuko said.

“Since then, there’s now a peaceful situation and we go back and celebrate this achievement,” he said about the legal end of apartheid in 1990.

The group also wrote a song when anti-apartheid activist Nelson Mandela and South African President F.W. de Klerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their work to end the violent and entrenched system of racial segregation.

Also on the Strathmore program are Christian gospel songs and others from the group’s mid-1980s collaboration with Paul Simon on the “Graceland” album, including “Homeless” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.”

Mazibuko and his cousin Joseph Shabalala, who founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the early 1960s, grew up on a farm in Ladysmith northwest of the coastal city of Durban.

“There were no roads, no electricity, no cars, just rivers and mountains,” Mazibuko said.

In the off season, Mazibuko — still a teenager — would travel illegally without an ID card to work in Durban, praying that the police would not catch him.

“We lived day to day, because life was so difficult,” he said. “There were so many dangerous things. People had power over us, and freedom was out of [the question.]”

He stayed with his uncle, closing windows during the day and staying inside at night so as not to attract attention. With the help of a lawyer, he eventually got an ID card so he could work legally.

A tenor, Mazibuko also sang part-time with Ladysmith Black Mambazo before joining full time in 1973.

Known for its harmonies, the group started out singing the music of South African miners.

“They’d sing about being away from their homes, living in compounds, and talk about their loved ones,” Mazibuko said.

Over time, the group added Christian gospel songs and songs in Zulu to help guide young people.

At one point they visited Germany, but it wasn’t until “Graceland” and the subsequent tour with Simon that the group began traveling.

“Without Paul Simon, I believe we wouldn’t have had the chances we’ve had to meet people from all over the world,” he said.

The cross-cultural album, which sold 14 million copies, is credited with sparking interest in world music.

“It was a blessing for us to collaborate with Paul — he opened the gate,” Mazibuko said.

In 2011, Simon returned to South Africa for a 25th reunion with Ladysmith and others who performed for the album.

The visit was captured in a two-hour film called “Paul Simon’s Graceland Journey,” which aired Jan. 4 on PBS.

Mazibuko said he and Shabalala are the only two members left from the group’s early days.

They continue to tour seven to eight months a year, which Mazibuko enjoys, because it gives him time to read that he doesn’t have at home.

“I like biographies, and books that are encouraging about life and history,” he said.

Group leaders are now grooming some of the younger performers, including Shabalala’s sons, to eventually take over the group.

“We know that we cannot live forever, and we want the younger ones to carry on after we’ve left this world.”

Mazibuko encouraged young people, including the generation not yet born when “Graceland” came out in 1986, to spend time with older people, to listen to them and to learn from them.

“Young people have energy and new ideas, but we have wisdom and we can help guide that energy,” he said.

And there’s no doubt that some of the people coming to the Strathmore concert will appreciate that advice.

Among them will be 37 teenage girls in the “A Girl’s Rite of Passage” program organized by the Potomac Valley chapter of the National Council of Negro Women based in Montgomery County.

Every year organizers take the group to a cultural event, said the chapter’s Effie Macklin, who often attends performances at Strathmore.

“We try to find something interesting for them and something they can relate to,” she said.

Macklin said she’s never seen Ladysmith Black Mambazo live in concert, but she knows their work from Disney’s “The Lion King Part II.”

Ladysmith also participated in Clint Eastwood’s movie “Invictus” and has collaborated vocalists like Stevie Wonder, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton and Josh Groban.

“Life is much better now,” said Mazibuko about his homeland. “People are free, they can open a business, stay anywhere and go to any school.”

But there are still people struggling in other parts of the world, and he hopes Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s harmonies will offer some hope.

“I think given the chance, it will do something,” he said about the group’s collection of songs.

“In other parts of the world, I hope they will find peace in it,” he said.