Showing some love

By Marisol Dorantes

South African choir group coming to the Wharton

Monday, Feb. 18 — The South African a capella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo just wrapped up a tour of Canadian leg of their North American tour. Member Albert Mazibuko said he hoped that the cold subsides as they head into Michigan for their performance at the Wharton Center on Wednesday.

“But it’s okay if it is cold — we will warm it up with our songs,” Mazibuko said, with a smile that was evident even over the phone.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is almost 50 years old, has three Grammy Awards, 40-plus albums and countless fans. Mazibuko said they take their message of happiness and hope around the world, traveling about six months out of the year, every year. Throughout their travels, the group remains home-bound at heart, infusing even the band’s tongue-twisting name with their love for their hometown, Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal, a province in South Africa.

As for the rest of the name, black represents the color of the oxen, which plow the fields where the men grew up, and mambazo, which means axe, stands for the tool that is used to clear the pathway — or “pave the future,” as Mazibuko put it. He said the importance of the group’s roots and the passion for what they do is what drives them forward.

“It is a blessing that we still enjoy our music everyone can enjoy it because it comes from the heart,” said Mazibuko. Mazibuko, who’s been a member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo since 1969, said the group formed in 1964 as a result of the apartheid conflicts in South Africa.

“The aim from the beginning was to encourage people to lead a positive life,” he said. “I think you can hear the joy in our music so people feel it when they come see us.” The choir group has nine members, consisting of seven members and two friends. Since the group’s formation, there has been an array of singers that have formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo, but its founder, Joseph Shabalala and his vision continue to be the core of the group.

The music is a mix of traditional Isicathamiya sounds and a variation of unique rhythms from a dream Shabalala had. The music, while grounded on cultural sounds, reaches a vast demographic of audiences. Case in point: the 2004 comedy, “Mean Girls,” which features the indelible line, “But you love Ladysmith Black Mambazo!” Mazibuko said the band is aware of the “Mean Girls” reference and said he thinks it’s “wonderful.”

“We love young people,” he said. “It’s good to see that our message is relevant among any group.” The youngest member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo is 28 years old and the oldest is 72 years — an age gap which Mazibuko said is an important element for the group’s mission. The choir ensemble is more of an ongoing project that is meant to live past the individuals that are part of it now.

“Mambazo will never die,” he said. “There will always be people to carry on the torch.”

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Wharton Center
Wednesday, Feb. 20
7:30 p.m.