Ladysmith Black Mambazo


Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs in Seattle, Washington, U.S. on January 31, 2017
Photo by Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons

Successful South African music group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, shows how music can help break down social and cultural barriers.

Transcript


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Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Adam Navis.

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And I’m Anne Muir. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

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Do you recognize this music? This is the music of the group called Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Ladysmith Black Mambazo comes from South Africa. People all over the world respect and love the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Joseph Shabalala is the group’s founder and lead singer. He has used his music to help break down social and cultural barriers. Today’s Spotlight is on the music and influence of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

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Joseph Shabalala was born in South Africa in 1941. Shabalala grew up during the time of apartheid. The apartheid law divided people based on the colour of their skin. As a black South African, Shabalala lived with many restrictions on what he could do. His family were farmers and did not have much money. But Shabalala had a dream. He dreamed of becoming a famous musician. He dreamed of providing for his family by making music. But many of his friends did not believe the dream. They said that he should not even try.

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Yet, Shabalala loved to sing and was a skilled musician. He played guitar and sang with local music groups. He joined a choir. He and the other choir members belonged to the Zulu tribe. They made music called Isicathamiya music. Isicathamiya is a Zulu word. It means to walk or step on your toes quietly. Isicathamiya music is often called tiptoe music.

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This kind of music has an interesting history. In the early 19th century, native South Africans worked six days a week. Sunday was the only day free from work. On that day, they danced and made music. The music they created was often fun and loud. However many people did not like how loud the music was. So the people developed a new, quiet sort of music. They called the music tiptoe music.

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This new music became very popular. It involved mixing different voice sounds together in beautiful harmonies. Many different music groups began just to sing this kind of music. Each one tried to find better, more complex harmonies. The best tiptoe groups competed against each other for prizes.

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In 1959, Joseph started his own Isicathamiya choir. This choir included mostly his brothers and cousins. They were popular in their local area. But then, in 1964, Shabalala had a series of dreams. He heard complex harmonies in these dreams. He said he had never heard these harmonies in real life. He convinced his choir to change their name. He taught them the music he had heard. He entered his choir in many competitions. They won almost every time.

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Shabalala changed the group’s name to Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Ladysmith was the hometown of the family. They chose black because black cows are strong farm animals. And they added the word Mambazo because it means axe. Woodcutters use axes to cut down trees. Shabalala dreamed of his group cutting a path to the top of the music industry.

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Over the next 15 years Ladysmith Black Mambazo recorded a lot of music. They sang their early songs all in the Zulu language. This was the native language of Joseph’s family. But Shabalala wanted all people in Africa to understand his songs. His desire was to use music to bring the people of Africa together. So he started writing in other African languages. He also started to write in English. The words of his songs talked about peace, hope, and love. They talked about people’s need to care for each other. They talked about equal rights for all people in South Africa.

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo sold many records in Africa. But they were not famous in the rest of the world. Then, in the early 1970s, Joseph met the musician Paul Simon. A friend had given Simon a record of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Simon came to South Africa to meet Joseph Shabalala.

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The music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo was completely different from anything Simon had heard before. So he talked to Shabalala. After that meeting, they wrote two songs together. These songs became popular across the world. Over 10 million copies of the songs have been sold. The first song was called ‘Homeless’ and the second was called, ‘Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes’. This is that music.

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Joseph Shabalala and his group were now famous. They travelled across the world. They were successful musically. But back in South Africa things were not so good. The struggle against the apartheid system was becoming violent. Many people believed that the law was wrong. They wanted to see the law changed. Shabalala wanted to see an end to apartheid too. But he did not think that violence was the way. He tried to use his music to bring people together.

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Nelson Mandela officially recognised the part that Ladysmith Black Mambazo played in helping end apartheid. He called them South Africa’s cultural ambassadors. In 1993, he invited the group to go with him to Oslo. There, Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize. The following year Nelson Mandela became president. He invited Ladysmith Black Mambazo to sing at the celebrations.

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Joseph Shabalala believed in the power of music to heal past hurts and anger. He wanted to share this truth with young people. Shabalala believed that music is a gift from God. It can help unite people. In 2014, Shabalala gave leadership of the band to his sons. But his dream of making music came true. He did not just provide for his family. He made the world a better place.

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo still perform. And they are still changing the music world. In 2017 the band received Grammy award nominations for two of their albums. They honor Shabalala and the other past members of the group.

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Have you ever heard the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo? Do you like it? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at radio@radioenglish.net. You can also comment on Facebook at Facebook.com/SpotlightRadio.

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The writer of today’s programme was Elizabeth Lickiss. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. You can listen to this programme again, and read it, on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This programme is called ‘Ladysmith Black Mambazo’.

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Look for our listening app in the Google Play store and on iTunes. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Have you ever heard of Ladysmith Black Mambazo? What is your favorite kind of music?

Comments


Avatar Spotlight
antenorcunha
said on February 27, 2018

Yes, my favorite kind of music,  is Rock and roll.

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VanTien
said on February 28, 2018

I haven’t heard of his music. My favourite is light music, some classic songs like casablanca, hello, papa…