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Interview: Ladysmith Black Mambazo

2009-11-16 12:13
Ladysmith Black Mambazo

What are you doing in Scotland?
We are doing a show, which is our third in Scotland. We have five shows planned here, and afterwards, we are going back to England, where we were before coming here.

You are always touring overseas. Do you have more fans overseas than at home?
[Laughs]. I'm going to have to disagree with you on that. People have been accepting us at home. The response at home (SA) is wonderful and is the same as here (overseas). In general, what I can say is that people accept Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music because it is unique. It’s something they never heard anywhere else. All credit should go to our leader, Joseph Shabalala for the way he composes songs and his leadership. He encourages us to dedicate ourselves to do this perfectly.

The group was formed over 45 years ago, so it has been going on for a long while. What's your secret recipe?
Maybe we are lucky. First of all, we are a family. Although there are a few newer members who are not from our family, most of us are related and grew up together. Joseph's grandmother was my grandfather's sister. So this is a family thing. But other than that, we respect one another and whatever we do, we do respectfully. We take every member's opinion. No one is anyone's boss here, so we work as a family. If we have something we want to talk about, we talk about it as a family.

So who are the remaining original members of your group?
Since the band was formed in the sixties, the only two members from that time are Joseph and I. The other members joined us in the early seventies. The latest recruits started joining us are Joseph's sons who started joined us in 1993, 1998, and 2007 saw the last of his sons join us.

What brought about the UK tour?
First of all, as people know, Paul Simon introduced us to the world. So people want to hear that sound that they heard a long time ago (1986 Graceland tour with Paul Simons) because they never got enough of it. The show that we are doing now is a great one. We have a Zimbabwean opening act, named Netsayi. She’s a young woman who sings very well. The show we are doing now, which is called "The Mamba", sees Joseph grooming his sons. He sings only two songs in the beginning of the show and then introduces his sons. I also have a song that I sing in which we invite the audience to come to SA for the FIFA World Cup next year. So yes, we have a special song were we teach and tell the audience about how we will be singing when our national team plays against theirs next year. So at the end of the show we invite the audience to come on stage and dance with us and we teach them the Zulu dance. It’s a great, wonderful, and happy show.

Since you are promoting the World Cup, are you officially 2010 World Cup ambassadors?
No. We just felt that since the tournament is coming to our country, it is our responsibility to invite people since we have the opportunity of meeting them. It is a very big thing to host the world cup.

What are your current projects as a group?
Right now we are striving to build a school in Ladysmith that'll teach indigenous music to the people of SA. We fear that if we don’t do anything, our music will disappear. As you might have seen in the world nowadays, people copy each other's music. Especially on TV and radio, music that is being played is not ours, but from outside. So we want a place we can call the home of indigenous SA music, were such music will be taught. Sometimes, I turn on the TV and watch the Botswana TV channel, were they showcase the young people's music. It’s so wonderful. But unfortunately, that beauty in our country isn't shown much appreciation and it's not promoted.

Which young SA talents would you like to work with in the future?
Anyone who is willing, and has the time to work with us. But mostly, we would love to work with the young people doing this popular music…I think it’s called Hip Hop. We might be able to spice it and make it sound more South African, instead of American.

Is there any particular group or artist that comes to mind that you want to work with?
Not at the moment because the current Ladysmith Black Mambazo members have their own groups to deal with. Sibongiseni Shabalala, Joseph's son, has his own group (Shabalala Rhythm) which sings maskandi spiced with iscathamiya. We are training another of Joseph's sons (Thamsanqa Shabalala) to lead Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but he's also got his own group called Inkanyezi, which performs gospel. We are helping them to stay close to our culture with their sound. We are trying to accommodate all the kinds of music we grew up singing.

Since you are grooming Joseph's sons, are there any plans to hand over the group as time progresses?
Yes. We are not getting any younger. So we know we should have some younger people who will take over when our time comes to retire. If we live long and our time comes to depart this earth we have to hand over the group to someone who will carry the torch of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

But do you personally have any plans of retiring any time soon?
No. I'm giving myself another thirty years. Right now I'm 61 so I figure I can sing until I’m about 90-something.

What then can fans expect from the group in the near future especially with the festive season looming?
If someone hasn't seen us at all, this is the time for them to see us. But those who have seen us will see a very grown Ladysmith Black Mambazo. We have grown musically. So much so, that we can now compare ourselves with any other in performers in the world.

Do you have any other confirmed shows lined up after this tour?
When we return to SA end of November, we are doing a show at the opening of the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban. After that we are going to Mozambique, Johannesburg, and everywhere else!. On December 1, we will be in Cape Town for a World Aids Day festival in Stellenbosch.

Which are the most memorable shows you’ve done?
Wow!…[sigh] One show I'll never forget was, if I remember correctly, in 1974 in Swaziland. Early one morning we went past a local stadium with a very long queue. "Wow!, is there a soccer match going on here", I remember us asking. One of the promoters there said: "No, these people are here for you!" So that was a first. 65 000 people filled the stadium just to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Our performance was also wonderful, so the memories of that tour have stayed with me ever since.
Outside the African continent, I remember when we performed with Paul Simon for the first time. It was in Rotterdam, Holland. The show was held at an arena that was packed with 15 000 people. Paul Simons performed first and introduced us. We sang the song "Nomathemba", which is the first song ever written by Joseph Shabalala. After we finished the performance we were acknowledged with thunderous clapping from the audience. They clapped non-stop for about two minutes. It was amazing. The following morning, newspaper headlines in Holland read: "Ladysmith Black Mambazo stole the show!" That was the Graceland world tour. Those performances I'll never forget. They'll always stand out. I don’t think there’ll be any other tour like the Graceland tour. It was great not only for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but for Paul Simon too. It was great for South African performers at large.

You said the group would like to perform with Hip Hop artists locally, what about overseas?
There is not artist in particular. But we do get lots of invitations from overseas. Our management always shows us the invitations, so when we have time we will definitely work with overseas artists.

Are you working on any new material or album?
We are brewing an album and we rehearse the material every evening before our shows. We are preparing to release the album in February 2010. People should take note that it's coming, and it's going to be great! We are recording it before the end of this year.

Any words for up and coming SA talent?
Up and coming talents should be proud of themselves, and shouldn't try to imitate musicians from overseas. The talent we have in SA is very unique, and no other places have it so they should believe in themselves and work hard. Nothing comes easy, they have to work hard and dedicate themselves to their work. Something I have learnt from overseas artists is that their work is perfect because they work so hard. Artists such as Paul Simon, even the late Michael Jackson are people we’ve worked with and they worked until the wee hours of mornings until their work was fully polished. Our artists can achieve great things if they work just as hard.

Do you have a message to you fans back here in SA?
I'd like to thank everyone who has supported Ladysmith Black Mambazo. They should also support local music by buying, and not pirating the music.

For over four decades, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has proven to be South African music ambassadors because of their unrivalled contribution to traditional African music- and SA music at large. At 61, Albert Mazibuko, the group’s tenor, says they are not about to stop now. We quiz him about their current UK tour, how they've held their own for so long, and the future of the group.
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