Remembering Joseph Shabalala from Ladysmith Black Mambazo

The people of South Africa were rocked by the sudden death of Joseph Shabalala. The founder of the South Africa male choral group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, passed away on Tuesday at the age of 78.

About Joseph Shabalala

The founder and musical director of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, helped introduce traditional Zulu music to the world.

As a young man during the apartheid-era, Joseph had limited work options available to him. Before pursuing music, Joseph wanted to become an educated person, either a doctor or teacher. Although, when Joseph was 12 years old, his father passed away and he had to quit school to take over the farming in his father’s place near Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal.

When he was older, Joseph worked in Durban as an auto mechanic during the day and sang at night. His dream was to sing in a group consisting of competitive song-and-dance teams which was created by miners from Kwa-Zulu Natal. However, he wanted a softer sound instead of the warrior-like groups created by the miners.

In 1964, Joseph Shabalala’s vision came to him to create “something new”. His vision included a kind of isicathamiya singing, which is an acapella style that blended Christian choral singing with Zulu elements.

This sound later formed the Ladysmith Black Mambazo group.

About Ladysmith Black Mambazo

A local South Africa male choral group formed in 1960 by Joseph Shabala, singing in vocal styles made up of mbube and isicathamiya. The group became internationally known when they sang with Paul Simon on his Graceland album in 1986.

The group’s individual names include: Ladysmith – the city near where Joseph grew up; Black – the strongest oxen on the farms where he worked; and Mambazo – Zulu word for “axe” which suggests the group will cut down their competitors.

The group has won multiple awards,five Grammy Awards included, and dedicated their fifth Grammy to the late President Nelson Mandela.