Soulful education on South Africa
Published: Sunday, February 2, 2014
Updated: Sunday, February 2, 2014 22:02
Community, peace, and love – these were the center of an inspirational performance by Ladysmith Black Mambazo at Jorgensen on Saturday night.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo takes on the Zulu sound of a single voice accompanied by a thick stack of harmonies, becoming a form of a cappella. Formed fifty years ago by Joseph Shabalala in the town Ladysmith, the word “black” is the Zulu term for “oxen,” the strongest farm animals, and “Mambazo” represents the “axe” that chops down all competitors. The band borrows heavily from traditional music called isicathamiya, sung by black workers in South African. The miners entertained themselves with these songs and kept a communal spirit alive.
As soon as the lights dimmed to warn everyone that the show was starting soon, all the noise and momentum came to a standstill. Cameras and flashes came out as Ladysmith Black Mambazo approached the stage, forming a line in front of nine microphones and accepting the cheers and praise from the audience.
The a cappella ensemble began the show with a slow and steady tune sung in their native language. They sang together, yet took different roles throughout the song, including feet and hand movements where they danced in place. When the first song was over, a member of the group greeted the audience by teaching them how to say hello in Zulu. He described the origins of the group and asked the audience to send their prayers to Shabalala, who recently underwent a surgery and was recovering. He assured the audience that Shabalala would join them again soon, and proceeded to introduce four members of the group: Shabalala’s sons. Amongst the nine performers was also Joseph’s grandson. The music tradition ran in the family, each son dedicating his life to his father’s legacy and fulfilling his wishes.
Though all the members wore the same clothes (traditional tunics with different animals printed on each, simple black pants, and white shoes) it was apparent that each member was a different age. From the oldest, who showed small signs of pain trying to perform impressive dance moves, to the youngest member of the group who began to break dance for the crowd. Even as the grandson danced wildly and showed his moves off, he was reminded by his elders to mind his manners and represent the group properly.
The groups’ songs told stories through both words and actions. One story was about a farmer whose love returns to him. In another, a man was getting cold feet before his marriage. The message of the song told him, “stop, don’t run away. Marriage is good for you, it’ll make you a better man.”
After intermission, the group performed a tribute to Nelson Mandela, telling him, “well done, you did a good job.” But the song also spoke about how South Africa had a long way until freedom. Indeed, the group spoke much about the future of South Africa, enlightening the audience both about the things that unite South Africa as well as the struggles for freedom the country still faces.