Ladysmith Black Mambazo to perform in honour of Nelson Mandela in July

Nine years after the passing of former President Nelson Mandela, five-time Grammy winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo will celebrate the life and times of the global icon with a concert featuring their classic hit songs and new music.

FILE: Grammy award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform in celebration of Nelson Mandela. Picture: Kayleen Morgan/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG – _“Webaba silale maweni. __Homeless, homeless. _Moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake”

The legendary a cappella choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo will be performing in honour of Nelson Mandela on 27 July at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein at the Celebrate Nelson Mandela concert.

“The one performance that I will forever cherish is when we accompanied Mr De Klerk and Bab Mandela to Norway. No performances were allowed but Madiba wanted us to perform two songs at the ceremony and when we got there, we were told by the organisers that they wouldn’t provide us with a sound system. We told them we did not need one,” said Albert Mazibuko to Eyewitness News.

In 1993, at Nelson Mandela's request, Ladysmith Black Mambazo accompanied the future president, and then-South African president, FW de Klerk, to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

They would sing again at President Mandela's inauguration in May of 1994.

“I remember looking around and thinking this will never happen again in my lifetime, this moment is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I will never get another chance to perform for my hero,” said Mazibuko proudly.

Nine years after the passing of former President Nelson Mandela, five-time Grammy winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo will celebrate the life and times of the global icon with a concert featuring their classic hit songs and new music.

“This music, we get it from Joe’s [group founder, Joseph Shabalala] dreams. He was told by his teacher via his dreams that if we did it right, we would go far with it. We were told that if we did not pursue this path and create this music, no one else would do it,” said Mazibuko on how the group come to sing isicathamiya.

Joseph Shabalala created the choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo in the 1960s. They sing a musical style called isicathamiya, a kind of acapella singing that uses only voices with no music or instruments, featuring close harmonies and many voices blending different notes at once and including hand movements and tight choreography.

“When Joe told us about his dream, we said let’s do it as we were the first in history to do it like this, and it would be our legacy forever. Every day we would practice and at night, Joe would be told in his dream whether we were doing it right and what to change to make it better by his teacher,” Mazibuko explained.

During the 1970s and early 1980s, Ladysmith Black Mambazo established themselves as a successful singing group in South Africa. In the mid-1980s, the American singer/songwriter Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated the group's rich harmonies into his famous Graceland album, a landmark recording that was considered crucial in introducing world music to mainstream audiences.

“We believe that African music is indigenous and if you do it right, you can compete and perform around the world against the best and maybe be better than the rest of the world. Look at what we have managed to achieve, we have won Grammy awards.”

The group can be heard on soundtracks of Disney’s The Lion King, Part II, Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, James Earl Jones’ Cry The Beloved Country and Clint Eastwood's Invictus. A documentary film called On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, The Story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy award. They have appeared on Broadway, have been nominated for Tony awards and have won a Drama Desk Award and five Grammys.

"The concert will also celebrate the 62-year legacy of Ladysmith Black Mambazo being in the music industry. The Celebrate Nelson Mandela concert is a celebration of what Mandela stood for and so it is aimed at spreading the message of love and peace throughout the world. The event is aimed at also encouraging people not to resort to violence in times of disagreements, but rather to use peaceful, amicable means. This will be an annual event that will travel to different countries, preaching the message of peace through the songs of Ladysmith Black Mambazo," said Mazibuko, who has been in the isicathamiya group since it started.

In 2014 founder, Joseph Shabalala, retired after over 50 years of leading his group. Joseph’s sons took on the role of group leaders, carrying the group’s message of peace into the future for decades to come.

"The late President Nelson Mandela was a big supporter of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He said that when he was on Robben Island, Ladysmith Black Mambazo was consoling them and giving them hope that one day South Africa will be free. The president also invited Ladysmith Black Mambazo to travel with him to Oslo when he was honoured with a Nobel Peace prize. After that momentous event, Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo wrote a song in honour of Madiba being a recipient of a Nobel Peace prize and being an international symbol of peace and unity. The song titled Long Walk To Freedom was a tribute to Nelson Mandela for being the first democratically elected president in South Africa,” said Sibongiseni Shabalala, son of the late Joseph Shabalala.

The upcoming show is a rare moment for South African Ladysmith Black Mambazo fans to interact with the legends and experience a full, live performance by this internationally-renowned group who spend most of their time touring the globe.

"This Joburg Theatre show will also pay tribute to our late father, the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Professor Joseph Shabalala, who also believed in peace and love,” said Sibongiseni.

Their message of peace and love through music will spread overseas in October when they land in the UK for a tour.

The group, through its Ladysmith Black Mambazo Mobile Academy programme, has selected two groups who will be travelling with them: Gods Fellas from Rustenburg and Meduduwetsane from Kimberley.

“We practice what we preach because they learn from us. Children learn from seeing you do things not from what you tell them to do. Whichever friend or family member that ones to join Ladysmith, we give them all the same ingredients to be successful,” said Mazibuko on how they help shape and guide the younger generation in the group.

He told Eyewitness News that an essential part of being successful in whatever you do is being passionate about it, everything else will follow.

“Don’t do music because you want to make money, do it because you love it. When we started, people were doing music for fun and we said let’s try and see how far we can get with this music thing,” he said.

The group has a mobile academy which is a developmental project aimed at discovering, developing and exposing the music talent of artists doing acappella and indigenous music while preserving the culture and heritage of isicathamiya/acappella music by creating a platform for sustainable jobs for upcoming artists. The search for talent has been done in all nine provinces in the country and nine different groups representing each province have been selected, mentored and given an opportunity to record. One of the groups from KwaZulu-Natal – the Africa Mamas - also travelled to Germany in November 2019 through the support of Ladysmith Black Mambazo Mobile Academy.

“In order to be great and for what you have created to last long after you have died, you have to like what you do. You need to dedicate yourself to be being better than you were yesterday, work on your craft and polish it. You also need to respect the people you work with, the audience and what you do,” said Mazibuko.

The Celebrate Nelson Mandela concert will later be broadcast on BET Africa, who are the media partners on this show.

The Celebrate Nelson Mandela concert is supported by the National Department of Sports, Arts and Culture, Joburg Theatre and BET.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo will be staging The Celebrate Nelson Mandela concert at the Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein on 17 July. Tickets are available here and Pick and Pay.