Ladysmith Black Mambazo (S. African Music)

So, I picked up a copy of Paul Simon’s Graceland album today, on vinyl no less, and I remembered how much I liked the a capella singing of the South African bands that are featured on this album. So, where should I start with Ladysmith? Amazon lists >40 titles. Anyone have a favorite? Any other S. African groups that you are fond of?

I can’t recommend an album, but I can certainly recommend seeing them live. There’s a dignity to their performing that can’t be captured just by the sound alone.

I have the Shanachie “Best of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.” It is a good selection of their mbube style – the whole album is a capella, no instruments, no distractions. The first track is Izithembiso Zenkosi, then Kubi Ukungalaleli, then Uphi Umhlobo, then Yimani. I’m not sure if it is still in print: I saw another Shanachie volume a couple of months ago and I am not sure if it is a volume two or just a new version.

MHO: Avoid anything with too many English titles. I like those songs far, far, less than their Zulu stuff. My favorite song is Uphi Umhlobo. Truly beautiful.

Spike Lee had a special in the early 90s called Spike Lee’s Do It A Capella which featured – hmmm, THREE performances by Ladysmith, if memory serves. One of the performances is the duet with another a capella group, the Mint Juleps, which they sing ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’… a true favorite. I’m not sure whether or not this show exists in VHS or DVD format but be sure to look for it.

“Spike Lee’s Do It A Capella” definately exists in VHS format- I bought a copy at a thrift store. Some great performances.

I’ve seen Ladysmith live twice (once on the Graceland tour, and because of that I went to see them on their own). They’re fantastic, and as an introduction to the style, I reckon a best of album would be idead. Also recommend the Bhundu Boys (more guitar-based) and Hugh Masakela.

If you are looking for more great South African music, I would recommend Mahlatini and the Mahotella Queens. The song “Thokozile” is happy music. It is South African pop, a style called kwela.

My favorite LBM CDs are Shaka Zulu and Heavenly. But you can start anywhere in their collection and not be disappointed, I think.

(I love the internet. I remember seeing the Spike Lee show [though I didn’t realize till now it was done by Spike Lee] and looking for an album by the Mint Juleps for months afterward; it turns out their only album came out 4 years later, per AMG. Zap over to Amazon, order a copy, and here I am, back again. Kids, let me tell you, technology is our friend./highjack)

Johnny Clegg and Savuka put out some excellent albums as well.