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Ladysmith Black Mambazo @ The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Friday.

January 29, 2014

Ladysmith Black Mambazo1_credit Shane DoyleIn a career that spans more than 50 years, critically acclaimed South African a capella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo has garnered a number of GRAMMY® nominations and awards (including one this past Sunday for their album Singing for Peace Around the World (Live), which won Best World Music Album) and continue to sell out shows around the world. Our Derrick Krom spoke with Albert Mazibuko, a longtime member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which is currently on tour in support of their latest album Always With Us. They’ll perform at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Friday.

You’re currently on tour in support of your latest album Always With Us. What do you enjoy most about performing live?

Performing live this tour gives us a chance to reflect back because the music that we sing — isicathamiya — is a reflection of the kind of music which is sung by women and men together in South Africa. A long time ago, our forefathers worked in the mines and when they would miss home, they would sing this kind of music. To sing these songs is to go back to our roots. It’s very exciting and I’m looking forward to singing the songs we have chosen on stage.

Do you have any special memories about the city of Philadelphia?

I always never forget Philadelphia. I remember when we went there for the first time. It was the summertime in 1987 and we performed outside. We had a great time there. That was when we had time to mingle with the people who were there and met a lot of friends there. I always remember Philadelphia and that day because it was telling us that the world was welcoming us. At the time, it was very difficult for us because it was hard to speak English but people were correcting us and were still so loving and so welcoming. That is when we said, “America is our home away from home.”

Tell me a bit about Always With Us and how it came together.

This album is a tribute to Nellie Shabalala (the group’s matriarch and group member Joseph Shabalala’s wife who passed away in 2002). We were always talking about Nellie. She has been beside her husband ever since Ladysmith Black Mambazo was started. She has always been with us. The idea to record the album came when we were sitting down with Nellie, talking about traditional wedding songs and how wedding songs were very important to her culture. When two people get married, you always celebrate that because they are going to start a family together. So when we were talking about this, we said, “We should record these songs.” Eventually, Nellie recorded these songs with her church choir. Since Nellie is always within our hearts and our spirits, we decided to keep her work alive and redo this album. It took a very long time to complete because the master tapes could not be found. But the engineers were able to pull out her voice from the CD and then mix it with our voices. We’re very excited to be singing these songs on stage.

You’re album Live: Singing for Peace Around the World has also been nominated for a GRAMMY® in the Best World Music Album category (which they won this past Sunday). Even though the group has been nominated a number of times in the past, how does it feel to once again be nominated?

We celebrate this one through the icon Nelson Mandela, who passed away last year. Most of the songs on that album were his favorite songs, the songs he used to choose when we would accompany him and perform for him. When we heard we were nominated we said, “This will be dedicated to him.” Unfortunately he has passed away, but we celebrate his life. This is for Mandela. We have to take this one back home.

How has Nelson Mandela’s life and recent passing influenced both you and your group’s music?

I can say that we are blessed that we had time to be with him when he went around the world and also when he was sitting at home. I remember five years ago when we last saw him. It was around Christmas time, when he would put together Christmas celebrations for the children. We spent time with him sitting in his home in Qunu and he was sharing some great stories with us about his life growing up and working as a lawyer. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is so fortunate that we have shared so much time with him. He even gave us the title of ambassadors of South African music. We are very humbled and will always make sure to do our best. We will continue to carry his torch and spread the message that love, peace and harmony should reign all over the world.

What sort of message is your group hoping to get across to the people listening to your music?

That we should try to live in peace with other people. People should live together so they cannot become vain or separated by different colors or backgrounds. It is a message from above of love and peace. Love each other, work together, share ideas and make this world a better place to be.

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