INTERVIEW: Ladysmith Black Mambazo celebrates six decades of South African music.

Mambazo, a singing group from South Africa, will soon perform at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Photo courtesy of the State Theatre / Provided with permission.

The singers of Ladysmith Black Mambazo are bonafide ambassadors of South African culture. For six decades they have been bringing the music of their nation around their own country and around the world, all with the hope of promoting peace, unity and fun.

Currently Ladysmith Black Mambazo is touring the United States, bringing their unique energy and their hopeful message to audience members both old and young. This tour is extra special because it honors the group’s 60th anniversary.

For South Africans, it was a different world back in the 1960s when Joseph Shabalala founded the group that would eventually become Ladysmith. The deadly and harsh realities of apartheid were taking hold, and decades of violence and unrest fell upon the nation.

According to the band’s official website, Shabalala was a farm boy turned factory worker, and his singing group’s namesake came from his hometown — Ladysmith, South Africa, located halfway between Durban and Johannesburg. Mambazo, according to press notes, is a Zulu word for chopping an axe, which is a symbol for the group’s beautifully rendered vocals.

One of the singers who has been with Ladysmith almost from the beginning is Albert Mazibuko, who has been with the group for more than 50 years and is a second cousin to Shabalala.

“I’m serving 51 years with the group,” Mazibuko said in a recent phone interview. “We all grew up in Ladysmith, South Africa. Joseph and I are second cousins, so we grew up in one home because Joseph’s father was raised by my grandfather. We were always together, and then we were living in one place and working on the farm. But he was 18 years older than me, so I was all the time following him because he has been my hero since I was a little boy.”

The new tour promises a mixture of the old and the new. Audience members will have the chance to hear some of the classic songs that have put Ladysmith on the map, perhaps even a selection or two off the Graceland album, their 1986 collaboration with Paul Simon. However, Mazibuko also said there are many new songs in the repertoire thanks to a recent collaboration with Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago.

“Lots of new songs and also the favorites that we cannot leave behind,” Mazibuko said about the set list. “It’s going to be a great show. I’m so excited about the new songs that the guys put together because we were just doing a play in Chicago for the past three months, so there’s lots of good songs that have been written for that play. So we want to share that with our audience because we felt that they were beautiful songs. They have to be shared, and also we are celebrating our 60th anniversary this year for Mambazo. So, in short, it will be a lot of dancing, good music, some jokes. I hope everyone will enjoy that.”

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