With 17 Grammy nominations, including one for 2016 Best World Music Album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has a long and spirited presence in the international music scene. The all-male a cappella group from South Africa has collaborated with Paul Simon, Sarah McLachlan and others and also was the subject of Oscar-nominated documentary On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom. They will bring their brand of isicathamiya (tiptoe in Zulu) music to the Birchmere on March 14.
Albert Mazibuko is the longest-participating member of the nine-person group and offers his take on why the group is still vibrant and relevant today, after more than 50 years and dozens of records.
How did the group form?
Joseph Shabalala wanted to develop this kind of music. I remember having a conversation with him when we were still young—I was a young boy; he was a teenager. Every time we were listening to our fathers singing with their friends, he was always saying, “There’s something missing here. It should be fixed.” And then in 1964, he had a dream. He told me that the dream stayed with him for six months. Every day when he [went] to sleep, he was dreaming of those people singing for him and then showing him how to blend the voices. So he told [my brother and me] the mission that he had. We said OK.
Your music is quiet and hypnotic, almost like a lullaby. Why do you think it appeals to people?
Shabalala used to say, “This music is from the blood to the blood.” So we’re talking with our souls to people’s soul. I think people need peace and quiet, [and] as you said sometimes when you listen to it, it’s like a lullaby. It takes all the worries out of you, and it makes you feel good about yourself. It relaxes your mind, but it’s also nurturing your spirit.
What’s the motivation behind your latest album?
Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers is a celebration of the group’s past, present and the future. We wanted to honor the people that came before us, the people that paved the way and left us the footsteps that we followed.
Many of your songs are inspirational. What would you say is the group’s overall message?
Love, peace and harmony.
What’s in store for Ladysmith Black Mambazo?
The future of the group is bright. The Grammy nomination shows that the people appreciate what we do. You know, these young ones—they can take the group for another hundred years to come. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is going to be there forever because I think we are unique in the traditional music that we sing.