Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Available on CD and cassette
Hannibal/Earthworks through Festival Records
Available on CD and cassette
Reviewed by Norm Dixon
If there is a heaven, and in the unlikely event that I am permitted to enter that place, it is voices with the velvet beauty and inspirational power of South Africa's best known performers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, that I hope would greet me.
Fortunately, I don't have to wait until I'm pushing up the daisies to sample the glorious harmonies, the wonderful vocal dexterity and the strength and defiance of this brilliant choir.
Their firm yet gentle choruses symbolise the power and determination of the South African people to end the awful system of apartheid. Choral music in South Africa has, since early in this century, been an integral part of mass struggle.
Wherever South Africans gather in numbers, the freedom song rings out. Trade unions and the liberation movements have their own singing groups. The great African hymn, "Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika", is the emotional national anthem of the black people of South Africa (and the official anthem of Tanzania, Zimbabwe and Zambia).
South Africa's contemporary choral music, ingoma ebusuku or "night music", has its origins in towns where migrant workers arrived with their traditional music. Unlike the instrumental and percussion-based music of central and northern Africa, South Africa's was primarily vocal. It was also influenced by religious music introduced by
white missionaries in the rural areas and the churches in the cities and towns.
In the mining compounds, hostels and meeting halls of the townships, ingoma ebusuku soon became a popular and unifying pastime. In the '40s began mbube music contests — all night competitions pitting vibrantly dressed working people's choirs against each other. These were judged by a hapless white plucked from the streets late at night.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform a version of ingoma ebusuku they call cothoza mfana — meaning literally to walk proudly as if on tiptoe. Inkanyezi Nezazi is dedicated to the co-founder of the group, Headman Msongelwa Shabalala, who was recently killed "accidentally" by a white guard. Its soaring Zulu-language gospel is steeped in the pride and hope of South Africa's oppressed.
As an exiled South African poet once explained: "Music created by black South Africa ... is defiant. It expresses the determination that every one of us will win freedom one day. It cannot [always] be political, so it is subtle. It expresses in its tone, in the sound of the voice and sound of the instruments, the soul of the black South African."
Of course, in the urban melting pot, other music developed. In the shebeens and back streets, traditional vocal music was accompanied by guitar, violin and the penny whistle. This combined with local rhythms and those of American jazz in dance hall music throughout the '40s and '50s. Through these and other influences, the popular township jive known as mbaqanga was born.
Zulu Jive! is a recently reissued compilation of Zulu artists playing this exciting dance music. It is an excellent introduction to modern township music.
Selections range from the earthy down home styles of Aaron Mbambo and Shoba, with their rough and ready vocals and a more than passing resemblance to cajun/zydeco music, to the thoroughly urban, soul-influenced smoothness of Joshua Sithole. The Rainbows contribute some classic instrumental township jive.