By Katrina Newton and Loretta Asquini
MELBOURNE — Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed to and dazzled a near capacity audience at the Melbourne Concert Hall on June 29.
The South African a cappella group, which has sung with Paul Simon and Michael Jackson, comprises 10 voices. They combine exquisite harmonies with a cheeky sense of humour and a genuine enjoyment of music and performance.
Their performance blends music derived from the struggle of South African mineworkers with the spectacular and traditional Zulu dance. A Christian influence is also evident in the gospel-type flavour to many of their songs. "The music is about tradition, love, home, family and parents — it's inside us", explained Joseph Shabalala, the leader and composer of the group.
The traditional music sung by Ladysmith Black Mambazo was born in the mines of South Africa and is called "isicathamiya". It was sung by black workers who were taken to mines far from their homes and families, where they were housed poorly and paid even worse. "Cothoza Mfana" was what the workers called it — meaning "lightly walking on toes". They would perfect their steps at night while camp guards policed the barracks and silence was mandatory.
Like all black South Africans, the group is familiar with prejudice and injustice. In December, Headman Shabalala, Joseph's brother and a co-founder of the group, was killed by a white security guard. The guard claimed that it was an accident and was released on $360 bail.
During the performance, Ladysmith Black Mambazo spoke of a campaign to build a school which would teach the indigenous culture and music of South Africa. They appealed for funds and donations to get the project under way. "Music is always part of African culture. It must be protected, nourished and taught to all."