Artist Profiles: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Headed by charismatic founder/composer Joseph Shabalala, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is Africa’s number one selling recording group. The name of the group comes from the city where the group comes from, Ladysmith, the black ox and mambazo, the Zulu word for ax.

With over 40 releases since their first recording in 1962, Mambazo’s captivating Zulu harmonies are a proud, strong homage to the jubilance, power and beauty of indigenous music.

Joseph Shabalala is a man that carries on developing his dreams. He has enlisted the talents of four of his sons the next Mambazo generation. Joseph’s ambition is now to establish the first Academy for the teaching and preservation of indigenous South African music and culture in South Africa.

Since the cooperation on the Graceland album – more than 14 million copies sold – with Paul Simon and their hit title “Homeless,” Mambazo have been known all over the world. The group has recorded over forty albums, selling over six million records at home and abroad, establishing them as the number one record selling group from Africa.

Their first album release for the United States, Shaka Zulu, won a Grammy Award in 1987. Since then they have been nominated for a Grammy Award six additional times, including a nomination in 2001 for the album Live From Royal Albert Hall.

The group has performed at two Nobel Peace Prize Ceremonies, for the Pope in Rome, South African Presidential inaugurations, the 1996 Summer Olympics, a Muhammad Ali television special and in the summer of 2002 at a celebration for Queen Elizabeth II’. Dubbed “The Party at the Palace,” Ladysmith Black Mambazo joined with Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart, Joe Cocker, Phil Collins and Paul McCartney on McCartney’s song’s “Hey Jude” and “All You Need Is Love.”

The music sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo is called isicathamiya. In the mines of South Africa, black workers would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the night, and choreographing dance steps on “tip toe” so as not to disturb the camp security guards. When the miners returned to the homelands, the tradition returned with them. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is by far the most famous of the South African isicathamiya groups.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

While the group’s music is clearly rooted in African musical traditions, the message speaks to all people whose ears and hearts are open, says Shabalala, a native of South Africa’s Zulu people who converted to Christianity around the time of his musical awakening in the late 1950s and early 1960s. To this day he is an active minister in a township outside of Durban, where he gives sermons in Zulu. “Without hearing the lyrics, this music gets into the blood, because it comes from the blood,”? he says. “It invokes enthusiasm and excitement, regardless of what you follow spiritually.”

Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Joseph Shabalala – Photo by R. Hoffman

Shabalala’s spirituality underwent the supreme test during the making of Raise Your Spirit Higher -Wenyukela. In the spring of 2002, his wife of thirty years was murdered in a church parking lot by a masked gunman. To date, no conviction has been made. Despite the overwhelming grief that inevitably follows such a profound loss, Shabalala chose the spiritual high road and has remained on it since. He keeps Nellie’s memory and spirit alive in his heart and music, and his faith remains unshaken. “?At the time that this happened, I tried to take my mind deep into the spirit, because I know the truth is there,” he says. “In my flesh, I might be angry, I might cry, I might suspect somebody. But when I took my mind into the spirit, the spirit told me to be calm and not to worry. Bad things happen, and the only thing to do is to raise your spirit higher.”

Eternally optimistic, Shabalala is confident that his perseverance in the face of personal tragedy is a powerful sign for the world to heed: “When the world looks at you and finds the tears in your eyes, but you smile in spite of the tears, then they discover that, ‘Oh, he’s right when he says you must be strong, because many things have happened to him, and he still carries on with the spirit of the music.”

Ladysmith is regarded as a national treasure of the new South Africa in part because they embody the traditions suppressed in the old South Africa.

Line-up: Joseph Shabalala -lead vocals; Albert Mazibuko – vocals; Sibongiseni Shabalala – vocals; Thamsanqa Shabalala – vocals; Thulani Shabalala – vocals; Msizi Shabalala – vocals; Jockey Shabalala – vocals; Abednego Mazibuko – vocals; Russel Mthembu – vocals; and Jabulani Dubazana – vocals.

Jockey Shabalala died in 2006.


Amabutho (Gallo Record Company, 1973)
Imbongi (Gallo Record Company, 1973)
Ufakazi Yibheshu featuring Empangeni Home Tigers (Gallo Record Company, 1973)
Umama Lo! (Gallo Record Company, 1974)
Isitimela (Gallo Record Company, 1974)
Ukukhanya Kwelanga (Gallo Record Company, 1975)
Amaqhawe (Gallo Record Company, 1976)
Ukusindiswa (Gallo Record Company, 1977)
Shintsha Sithothobala (Gallo Record Company, 1977)
Phezulu Emafini (Gallo Record Company, 1977)
Ushaka (Gallo Record Company, 1978)
Indlela yaseZulwini (Gallo Record Company, 1978)
Ezinkulu (Gallo Record Company, 1979)
Intokozo (Gallo Record Company, 1980)
Nqonqotha Mfana (Gallo Record Company, 1980)
Ulwandle Oluncgwele (Gallo Record Company, 1981)
Cologne Zulu Festival (Gallo Record Company, 1981)
Phansi Emgodini (Gallo Record Company, 1981)
Umthombo Wamanzi (Gallo Record Company, 1982)
Induku Zethu (Gallo Record Company, 1983)
Ibhayibheli Liyindlela (Gallo Record Company, 1984)
Inkazimulo (Gallo Record Company, 1985)
Inala (Gallo Record Company, 1985)
Ezulwini Siyakhona (Gallo Record Company, 1986)
Shaka Zulu Warner Bros (1-25582) 1987)
Thandani (Gallo Record Company, 1987)
Zibuyinhlazane (Gallo Record Company, 1988)
Journey of Dreams (Warner Bros Records, 1988)
Isigqi Zendoda (Gallo Record Company, 1990)
Two Worlds, One Heart (Warner Bros Records, 1990)
Favourites (Gallo Record Company, 1992)
Classic Tracks Shanachie Records 1992)
The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Vol 1 (Shanachie Records, 1992)
Liph’ Iqiniso (Gallo Record Company, 1993)
Gift Of The Tortoise (Gallo Record Company, 1994)
Zulu Hits Vol. 1 (Gallo Record Company, 1995)
Gospel Hits Vol. 2 (Gallo Record Company, 1995)
Shosholoza with the Team Shosholoza (Gallo Record Company, 1995)
Thuthukani Ngoxolo (Gallo Record Company, 1996)
Ukuzala-Ukuzelula with the Mahubo Nesigekle Ladies Choir (Gallo Record Company, 1995)
Heavenly (Gallo Record Company, 1997)
The Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo – The Star and the Wiseman (Gallo Record Company, 1998)
Gospel Songs (Wrasse, 2000)
In Harmony (Wrasse/UMTV, 1999)
Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Shanachie Records, 1999)
In Harmony – Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Wrasse/UMTV, 1999)
Lihl’ Ixhiba Likagogo (Gallo Record Company, 2000)
Wenyukela (Gallo Record Company, 2003)
Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela (Heads Up International/Gallo, 2004)
No Boundaries, with the English Chamber Orchestra (Heads Up International/Gallo, 2004)
Live at Montreux (Eagle Records, 2005)
Long Walk to Freedom (Heads Up International/Gallo, 2006)
The Hits (Gallo Record Company, 2006)
Ilembe (Gallo Record Company/Warner Jazz, 2007), also released as Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu (Heads Up International, 2008)
My Dream – African Sounds, with the SABC Choir (Gallo Record Company, 2008)
Kobuye Kulunge (Gallo Record Company, 2010)
Songs From A Zulu Farm (Listen 2 Entertainment, 2011)
Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Friends (Listen 2 Entertainment, 2012)
Live: Singing For Peace Around The World (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 2013)
Always With Us (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 2014)
Music from Inala: a Zulu Ballet (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 2014)
Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 2016)
Shaka Zulu Revisited (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 2017)
Songs of Peace and Love for Kids and Parents Around the World (Ladysmith Black Mambazo, 2017)


Ladysmith Black Mambazo – In Harmony: Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Shanachie, 1999)

Ladysmith Black Mambazo – On Tip Toe (New Video Group, 2004)

Live at Montreux (Eagle Rock Entertainment, 2005)

Author: Angel Romero

Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites and Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.

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