The Washington Center for the Performing Arts is excited to present GRAMMY Award winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo on January 17, 2018, featuring songs from their most recent CD, Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Fathers. This marks the group’s 17th Grammy Award nomination. Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been awarded the Grammy Award four times; in 1988, for Shaka Zulu; in 2004, for Raise Your Spirit Higher; in 2009, for Ilembe and in 2013, for Singing For Peace Around The World.
Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Fathers is a celebration of the group’s past, present and future. The group members say, “with this new CD, we wanted to honor the many people from the past, people that the younger generations must give thanks to for paving the way and leaving footsteps for us to follow. We honor the past members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, our fathers, who started this group in the 1960’s. Our fathers sang as part of Ladysmith Black Mambazo because of the pride and love they shared for their people’s history and culture. We also honor the “elders of South Africa” whom the younger generations admire, praise and are so grateful for all they have done for our people. These elders are the ones who have paved the way for the future of our country. These elders have laid down the footsteps we humbly follow.”
In 2014 Ladysmith Black Mambazo, South Africa’s most famous and successful music group, was awarded its fourth Grammy Award, for the CD Singing For Peace Around The World. Not just a CD title but a statement of the group’s career mission. It was Nelson Mandela who designated Ladysmith Black Mambazo “South Africa’s Cultural Ambassadors to the world.” It is a moniker the group members hold close to their hearts. Nelson Mandela passed away December 2013 but the group has been celebrating Mandela’s message of peace at every concert they perform.
The group was founded in the early 1960s by Joseph Shabalala, then a teenage farm boy living on the lands just outside the small town of Ladysmith, South Africa. Joseph incorporated the town into the name he would give his group to honor his family history. As well, the word Black is a reference to the black oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo, the Zulu word for chopping axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to “chop down” any singing rival who might challenge them. So began the fifty plus year career of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Their early ability won so many awards, at the local South African competitions, that by the end of the 1960’s the group was banned from competing. However they were always invited to attend as entertainers.
A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract – the beginning of an ambitious recording career that currently includes more than fifty albums, earning seventeen Grammy Award nominations and the four Grammy Award wins; Shaka Zulu (1987), Raise Your Spirit Higher (2004), Ilembe (2009) and Singing For Peace Around the World (2013). Shortly they will release a follow up CD to the recent Grammy Award winner, titled Songs of Peace & Love for Kids & Parents Around The World. It is very important, to the group, that their message of peace and love be passed from generation to generation. By recording songs of peace that parents can teach their children, the group hopes to continue the message for decades to come. Their latest CD, Walking In The Footsteps Of Our Fathers, was nominated for the Grammy Award as Best World Music Album of 2016.
Apartheid, the South African social system forced upon the country’s black majority to keep the white minority government in power, was a dividing force in many ways. The musicians and artists of South Africa took two paths of resistance. Some sang songs with powerful messages of revolution against the horrors of apartheid. Others, like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, followed a path of peaceful protest. Joseph, following the ways of Martin Luther King Jr and Mahatma Gandhi, wrote songs of hope and peace. When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, in 1990, he called Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music as one of the powerful messages of peace he listened to while in jail. When Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1993, he called on Ladysmith Black Mambazo to join him in Norway and have them entertain at the ceremony.
The group sings from a traditional music called isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-Ya), which developed in the mines of South Africa. It was there that black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and 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.
During the 1970’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo established themselves as the most successful singing group in South Africa. In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated the group’s rich harmonies into the famous Graceland album (1986) – a landmark recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences.
In addition to their work with Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with numerous artists, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge, and many others. They have provided music for many movies, have appeared on Broadway where they were nominated for a Tony Award and even had a documentary film, titled On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, the Story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, nominated for an Academy Award.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo carries a message of Peace, Love and Harmony as they travel the world year after year. They bring this message, in song and dance, to every theater they perform in. We hope you will join them as they sing their message. See them at The Washington Center for the Performing Arts on January 17, 2018. Tickets available through the box office or online at www.washingtoncenter.org. Prices start at $32.00. For more information, call The Washington Center box office at 360.753.8586.