Rich Rhythms, Joyful Sounds

Blend the intricate rhythms and harmonies of native South African music with the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel, and you get Ladysmith Black Mambazo, performing at The Clayton Center on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m.

Best-known for defining the sound on Paul Simon’s groundbreaking Graceland album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s musical efforts have earned many accolades within the recording industry.

Led by founder Joseph Shabalala, this group of vocalists delivers the complex songs developing out of the African Isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-Ya) tradition. Isicathamiya developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers, poorly housed and paid, entertained themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours on Sunday morning.

In the mid-1980s, Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s rich harmonies into his Graceland album, a landmark recording introducing world music to mainstream audiences.

Graceland won the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year. A year later, Simon produced Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s first U.S. release, Shaka Zulu, which won the Grammy Award in 1988 for Best Traditional Folk Album. In total, the group has received 15 Grammy Award nominations and three Grammy wins, including one in 2009.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with artists from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Josh Groban, Dolly Parton, and Ben Harper. Their 2006 CD Long Walk to Freedom featured guest singers Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Melissa Etheridge, Emmylou Harris and Taj Mahal, among others.

Their film work includes an appearance in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video and Spike Lee’s Do It A Cappella. They also provided soundtrack material for Disney’s The Lion King, Part II, Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, Marlon Brando’s A Dry White Season, Sean Connery’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and James Earl Jones’ Cry The Beloved Country.

A film documentary titled On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, the story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award.

After 40-plus years, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is still enjoying a busy career, with six new recording projects readying for release, a new concert DVD and a children’s project. Volume one of their CD trilogy Our South African Life was released in January 2011, titled Songs from a Zulu Farm.

Tickets for the Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert are $29 and are available through The Clayton Center Box Office by phone at (919) 553-1737, or online at

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