Ladysmith Black Mambazo first came to American attention in 1986, when they joined Paul Simon in Graceland. But the a cappella group actually has been performing for 48 years now. Their smooth concert last night at the Southern Theatre demonstrated that they still have the power to satisfy an audience.
Composer, music director, and lead singer Joseph Shabalala has been with the group since the beginning, while other members have come and gone. The eight-man group now includes four of Shabalala´s sons, who are clearly being groomed to take over when the time is right.
The youngest of those sons, Thamsanqa Shabalala, took the lead on two of the songs, showing off a sweet, expressive voice. His brother Sibongiseni also led one, with warmth and comic charm.
Although he occasionally left the stage, father Joseph is obviously in charge: For much of the evening, he stood alone with the others lined up behind him, singing the melody while they supplied rich harmony.
The group´s songs - in Zulu, English or a combination of the two - sometimes touch on political subjects, but more often take on the timeless topic of seduction. Homeless, co-written with Simon, looks at the problems of apartheid-era South Africa, and Long Walk to Freedom at the changes in that country over the past decades.
Other songs, such as the one whose first lines translate as the lady is beautiful, she has a beautiful set of teeth, allowed for clowning, with beckoning hands, kissing noises and playful competition among would-be suitors.
The singers wore loose, patterned shirts, black pants and white sneakers, which dazzled the eye as the singers began to dance in a bumptious chorus line, kicking their feet over their heads and landing so lightly they could barely be heard. Finger-snapping, and occasional belly-slapping, punctuated the music.
CONCERT REVIEW | LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO
Group still dazzles after nearly 50 years
Wednesday, February 25, 2009 12:35 AM
By Margaret Quamme
FOR THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
The Southern Theatre provided an appropriate acoustic environment for the singer´s resonant voices, which changed enticingly in volume as they moved away from and toward their microphones. A simple backdrop, in which three long columns of fabric changed to vivid colors including coral, lime green and purple, added visual interest.
The concert included a certain amount of shtick: A post-intermission discussion of the World Cup, scheduled to be held in South Africa next year, segued into a singing lesson and then into a competition between the audience and the group. Another song ended with six game audience members joining the group on stage, where some well-intentioned dancing was enlivened by one audience member´s unexpected display of the ability to do the splits.
But most of the evening was given to fluid, accessible music, as complex rhythms found a home in close harmonies, and long, incantatory songs allowed each individual a few chances to sparkle.