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Ladysmith Black Mambazo to bring piece of South Africa to Columbus

Courtesy of Luis Leal

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For some people, Black History Month means taking the time to recognize the iconic figures of the Civil Rights Movement. For the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, it is another chance for the members to connect people of all races and ethnicities through its music.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is scheduled to perform at the Southern Theatre at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

“Our music is music that unites people,” said Albert Mazibuko, one of the oldest members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. “When we formed the group in the late ‘60s, our aim was to encourage people to work together, especially the black people. To stay strong and fight for their freedom … in a peaceful way.”

Mazibuko and the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, are the only two original members in the group.

It has lost and gained members over its career, which spans longer than 50 years.

The name serves as a totem of perseverance and as a reminder of Mazibuko’s and Shabalala’s hometown, Ladysmith.

“The ‘Black’ refers to the black skin of oxen, because when we grew up, we were using this animal to plow the land,” Mazibuko said. “So we found out that the black ones were more powerful than the other ones, so we want our group to be powerful.”

Mazibuko described the word “Mambazo,” or chopping ax, as an important tool in farm life.

When all three words are combined, it is hoped that people recognize and remember where the group came from, Mazibuko said.  

The majority of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music is derived from a style called isicathamiya. It was developed in South African mines by black workers as a way to cope with harsh working conditions.

Mining was a large source of revenue during the South African apartheid.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo uses the isicathamiya style of music to uplift its listeners’ low spirits and generate hope through predominantly gospel music. But Shabalala said in a press release that regardless of what spirituality you follow, the music evokes enthusiasm and excitement.

“Without hearing the lyrics, this music gets into the blood, because it comes from the blood,” he said in the release.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a compilation of nine singers. Mazibuko said the group does not employ instruments because the instruments are in their chests.

The group released its first U.S. album, “Shaka Zulu,” in the 1980s. It was produced by Paul Simon of Simon and Garfunkel, and won the 1988 Grammy award for Best Traditional Folk Album.

After 15 Grammy nominations and three Grammy wins according to a press release, the group has recorded for Disney’s “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride,” and has worked with renowned artists such as Ben Harper and Dolly Parton.

The group is working on opening a school of music in South Africa.

“South Africa is so rich when it comes to music,” Mazibuko said. “Now, our dream … is to have a school that anybody who wants to learn about South African music can go there and learn the music. And so this is going to be in our hometown in Ladysmith.”

Megan Swan, a second-year in fashion and retail studies, said she believes the collaboration of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and American artists will create an opportunity to teach diversity.

“It’s important because it will create more cultural diversity for coming over here and then they learn more music to take back to teach others, and just to give (students) more of an education in all aspects, not just in the classroom,” she said.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s latest musical work focuses on the carefree enjoyment of childhood.

“We wanted to go back to our childhood and, you know, just to touch on the kind of feeling how we felt when we were young people, and how we were looking at things.” Mazibuko said. “Even to perform those songs on stage, it’s wonderful, and I am so happy.”

Tickets to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo can be purchased at any Ticketmaster outlet or at the Ohio Theatre ticket office for $28 and $33.

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