Johannesburg - Joseph Shabalala, the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, wants to win at least 10 Grammy Awards before he dies. Although he is at home in failing health, his group is halfway to fulfilling his dream.
Mambazo scooped their fifth gong at the 60th Grammy Awards ceremony in New York last Sunday.
Shabalala (78), who retired due to ill health in 2014, may not be able to travel and perform anymore, but he is still much involved with the group. He underwent spinal surgery last September and has been struggling to walk.
“He’ll always be part of Mambazo. Before we take any decision, we still go to him for approval,” said his son Sibongiseni, who now leads the group.
Because the group is in California on tour, Shabalala’s eldest son, Msizi, accepted the award on their behalf.
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Sibongiseni told City Press this week that, last Sunday, they were performing to an audience who burst into applause as they finished singing the last verse of their song, Lomhlaba Kawunoni.
He said the clapping “wasn’t normal”, and it was then announced that the nine-member outfit had won their fifth Grammy for Best World Music Album, Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Celebration. This is the same album that won them their first Grammy in 1988, but they rearranged it last year.
“We still continue with Black Mambazo’s legacy. The secret to our success is quite simple: we are still keeping the same sound since the group was formed in 1960.
“My dad is one of the few talented writers and composers in the country. To be a successful and a relevant musician, your composition needs to be out of this world,” he said.
(Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Photo: Gallo Images)
Sibongiseni said his father taught his sons to compose music from a young age, which was why their sound had remained the same.
“Growing up, we learnt the tricks from him. We watched my dad rehearsing with his bandmates. Before introducing a new song to the rest of the band, he’d sing it to us; music runs in the family,” he said.
In a 2014 interview, Shabalala said he used to enjoy singing for his sons, and little did he know it would open doors for them one day. “Today I’m not well and they have taken over. It’s important to invest in your children – it pays off,” he said at the time.
This week, Albert Mazibuko, who joined the group in 1969 and is its oldest member, said he couldn’t believe they won their fifth Grammy.
“I am still pinching myself. This is a big deal,” he said. “When we started, some people didn’t understand our sound and the genre isichathamiya, but we had a dream to purse this genre. To this day, our music has a message that people can still relate to, whether they are young or old, and that’s what makes us relevant to everyone,” he said.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo has produced more than 60 albums.
Mazibuko said their music was a gift from God. “Everything we’ve learnt through music is from Joseph,” he said.
Although they still perform internationally, Mazibuko said they owed their success to their South African fans.
“Many people don’t know South Africans believed in our craft before we were recognised internationally. All of us, we paid lobola with the help of South Africans. When we didn’t have a place to sleep, they used to accommodate us in their homes,” he said.
Sibongiseni said they still had a long way to go to realise his father’s dreams.
“One of my dad’s biggest dreams is to build a school in his hometown, in Ladysmith. The school will focus on teaching young people not only isichathamiya, but amasiko [customs and traditions]. We have identified the site. We just need more sponsors to make his dream come true.”
Ladysmith Black Mambazo will return to South Africa in April to spend time with their families. Then they will head off to the UK to perform at Queen Elizabeth’s birthday party.
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