South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder, Shabalala, dies

Joseph Tshabalala [PHOTO CREDIT: The Citizen]
Joseph Tshabalala [PHOTO CREDIT: The Citizen]

Joseph Shabalala, who helped introduce the sound of traditional Zulu music to the world with his grammy-winning choral group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, has passed away.

He died on Tuesday morning, aged 78.

Mr Shabalala died in hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, the band’s manager, Xolani Majozi told South Africa’s local newspaper, Times Live.

“Yes it’s true. Mr Shabalala passed on this morning. The group is on tour in the US, but they have been informed and are devastated because the group is family,” Mr Majozi said.

He added that Mr Shabalala’s family would issue an official statement later in the day.

According to the Times Live, the musician’s health had deteriorated in the past few years, resulting in him retiring from the group in 2014. He handed over to his son, Sibongiseni, three years ago.

In 2017, Mr Shabalala was reportedly admitted to hospital after his health took a nosedive after he underwent spine surgery and “struggled” to get back on his feet.

Earlier this year, the musician was again taken to the hospital, due to his ailing health.

The South African government paid tribute to the musician in a tweet, saying, “We would like to extend our condolences on the passing of Joseph Shabalala, who was the founder of the group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

It added in Xhosa, “Ulale ngoxolo Tata ugqatso lwakho ulufezile.” (Rest in peace, father, your race is complete.)

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Born in 1941, Mr Shabalala was the eldest of eight children living on a farm in Tugela, near the town of Ladysmith in South Africa.

As a young boy, he nursed an ambition of becoming a teacher or a doctor but was forced to leave school at the age of 12 when his father died, working on the family farm and, later, in a local factory.

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As a young talent, he would sing with friends in a local group called the Blacks, in his spare time.

Eventually, he would become the leader and main composer for a choral group, fusing indigenous Zulu songs and dances with South African isicathamiya, an acapella tradition that was frequently accompanied by a soft, shuffling style of dance.

The group was re-christened Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a name that was significant on several levels: Ladysmith represented his hometown, Black referenced the black oxen that were the strongest on the farm, and Mambazo, from the Zulu word for axe, symbolised the group’s ability to cut down the competition, he once said in an interview.

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The musician got global recognition after being recruited to sing on Paul Simon’s multi-million-selling Graceland album, most notably on Homeless, a song he co-wrote with Simon, based on the melody for a traditional Zulu wedding song.

The band joined Simon on his subsequent world tour. In return, he produced their next three albums – with 1987’s Shaka Zulu winning a Grammy for best traditional folk recording.

Mr Shabalala retired from active performance in 2014 shortly after performing at a memorial concert for Nelson Mandela and continued to teach traditional choral music.

After handing over to his eldest son, four of his sons (and one grandson) continued his legacy within Ladysmith Black Mambazo.



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