Ecstatic Voices

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain, The Very Best of (Wrasse Records WRASS 139, 2004)

There can be no doubt that the collective voices of Joseph Shabalala and his
troupe still raise the small hairs on the back of the neck with their
distinctive and wide-ranging harmonies. They have been doing this for a long
time now and know just how to touch the minds and bodies of listeners who may be
totally unfamiliar with the Zulu language. Such is the power of certain music to
reach across cultures and frontiers.It must have been difficult to select a ‘very best of’, which is the subtitle
of this double CD, but then any anthology poses such problems. Wrasse have come
up with a compilation that ought to please the majority of fans and probably
enlist a few more converts. There are many favorites present, including ‘Inkanyezi
Nezazi’ or The Star And The Wiseman, and their treatment of ‘Nkosi Sikelel’i’
which is mixed with another song of inspiration, ‘Shosholoza’. They also revive
the traditional ‘Mbube’, not that it needs any revival.

Those who came to the

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
sound via their association with Paul Simon will
welcome the inclusion of ‘Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes’ and while it is an
attractive and memorable song it isn’t the strongest showcase for their voices.
Better is another Simon related piece, ‘Homeless’, mixing their native tongue
and English to interesting effect. It is one of those acappella moments when the
voices are engaged in multi-facetted swapping of harmonies without any other
interference. It is a joyful noise, as is Shabalala’s ‘Halala South Africa’.

What I find less interesting are the collaborations with Dolly Parton and
China Black. The latter, on ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’, bring little to the
Ladysmith sound and the track features totally unnecessary chanting crowds and
mechanical drumming. Ugh! Bill Withers’ ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ featuring Des’ree is
another one to avoid since it adds nothing to the original and isn’t a
particularly flattering outing for L.B.M. Imagine those glowing voices submerged
under a slab of lame funk. Well that’s what happens! Maybe I’m a purist but I
find these ‘celebrity’ guests an intrusion that devalues the music.

Luckily there are many many more moments to cherish and when the voices are
given uncluttered space, as they mostly are, they are as thrilling and ecstatic
as ever.

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