13 Sep 2016

Live: Ladysmith Black Mambazo at WOMAD 2016

From the collecton Womad
Ladysmith Black Mambazo at WOMAD 2016

Ladysmith Black Mambazo at WOMAD 2016 Photo: Stan Alley

Ladysmith Black Mambazo live at WOMAD 2016.

Without doubt, one of the highest profile visiting acts performing on the Bowl stage at WOMAD 2016 was the nine piece choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, hailing from the township of Ladysmith, northwest of Durban in South Africa.

The choir was founded in 1960 and quickly earned a formidable reputation, winning so many choral competitions they were eventually asked to stop competing, but were welcome to attend and entertain at them.

During the years of apartheid it was frequently difficult for touring black South Africans to travel. They had to have written permission to play in other cities. Frequently the choir would be stopped and have to not only produce the appropriate paperwork but also sing for the police as well, and every time they could continue their journey. At one particular road block near their town of Ladysmith, the Commissioner was there and after singing for him he said “This is too good to be stopped” and he arranged for the Magistrate in Ladysmith to grant the choir permanent permission to travel freely. Music won the day!

Ladysmith Black Mambazo recorded albums for the Gallo Record label and had the first Gold album recorded by black musicians. It resulted in the band being heard by musician and composer Paul Simon who immediately tracked Ladysmith Black Mambazo down and brought them to London to record the song 'Homeless' for his album Graceland.

That recording went on to be defining point in the career of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. In 1986, Paul Simon’s album Graceland went on to sell over 16 million copies and introduced Ladysmith Black Mambazo to a global audience. The choir began to travel internationally.

In 1988, Ladysmith Black Mambazo recorded the album Shaka Zulu and it won them their first American Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Recording. This literally opened the doors for Ladysmith Black Mambazo and other musicians.

When Nelson Mandela, after 27 years of imprisonment, became President of South Africa in 1994, he publicly stated that Ladysmith Black Mambazo were to be "South Africa's cultural ambassadors".

As the founder of the choir, Joseph Shabella said: “The journey that Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been on, was never a dream, a black South African could ever imagine”

Trevor Reekie speaks with Albert Mazibuko - choir leader for Ladysmith Black Mambazo at WOMAD 2016.

Given the huge crowd who assembled to witness Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform on the Bowl stage at Pukekura Park and the rapturous reception they received, it’s obviously a dream that will never fade.

Recorded by RNZ Music. Engineered and Produced by William Saunders.