For over forty years, the voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo have married the intricate rhythms and harmonies of theirnative South African musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music. The result is a musical and spiritual alchemy that has touched a worldwide audience representing every corner of the religious, cultural and ethnic landscape. Their musical efforts over the past four decades have garnered praise and accolades within the recording industry, but also solidified their identity as a cultural force to be reckoned with.
Assembled in the early 1960s, in Durban South Africa, by Joseph Shabalala (still currently leading the group) ' then a young farmboy turned factory worker 'Joseph took the name Ladysmith Black Mambazo ' Ladysmith being the name of Shabalala's rural hometown; Black being a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo being the Zulu word for axe, a symbol of the group's ability to 'chop down' any singing rival who might challenge them. Their collective voices were so tight and their harmonies so polished that they were eventually banned from competitions ' although they were welcomed to participate strictly as entertainers.
In the mid-1980s, Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Black Mambazo's rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his Graceland album ' a landmark 1986 recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences. "Graceland" one many awards including the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year. A year later, Simon produced Black Mambazo's first U.S. release, Shaka Zulu, which won the Grammy Award, in 1988,for Best Traditional Folk Album. Since then, and in total, the group has received fifteen Grammy Award Nominations and three Grammy Award wins, including one in 2009.
In addition to their work with Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with numerous artists from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Josh Groban,Dolly Parton, Ben Harper and many others. Their 2006 CD, "Long Walk To Freedom" had guest singers join them, such as Sarah McLachlan, Natalie Merchant, Melissa Etheridge, Emmylou Harris, Taj Mahal and others. Their film work includes an appearance in Michael Jackson's Moonwalker video and Spike Lee's Do It A Cappella.They provided soundtrack material for Disney's The Lion King, Part II as well as Eddie Murphy's Coming To America, Clint Eastwood's Invictus, Marlon Brando's A Dry White Season, Sean Connery's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen andJames Earl Jones' Cry The Beloved Country. A film documentary titled On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, the story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award. The group is also well known for its Life Savers candy commercials as well as adverts with Heinz Beans. Their performance with Paul Simon on Sesame Street is legendary and is one of the top three requested Sesame Street segments in history.