Their smiling faces and simple melodies belie the hard work and carefully cultivated talent that goes into the performance of Grammy-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo. On stage at the historic State Theater in Minneapolis last Saturday evening, this nonet of cultural ambassadors for South Africa brought nothing but acclaim to their country.
Their concert, accented with hallmark South African sounds of clicks and whistles as well as energetic dance steps, started promptly at 8 o’clock and lasted two hours. In all that time, the only instruments used were their voices as they sang in the traditional Isicathamiya style. No pitch pipe offers them a starting note, they sing as if they’ve perfect pitch.
A little history of the Isicathamiya fashion of singing deepens ones appreciation for Ladysmith Black Mambazo. This a cappella style relies on tight harmonies, which Ladysmith Black Mambazo achieves through maintaining a tight-knit group with many brothers and cousins providing their voice, and precise choreography, which Ladysmith Black Mambazo displayed with panache. Even the most senior members who hover close to 70s in age kicked their heels high above their heads, repeatedly.
Isicathamiya choirs also require a dress code of suits, white shirts, and black shoes. The choir founded by Joseph Shabalala 57 years ago deviated from the specifics, yet retained the requisite red socks. They exchanged the suit coat and dress shirt for attire in style and color that was more representative of their Zulu culture. Their feet glowed white instead of their shirts.
The polished picture they presented on stage with honed voice, meticulous footwork, and infectious humor kept their nearly sold-out audience entertained and informed. The group sang from their album, Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers, which is up for this year’s Grammy for Best World Music Album. The Grammys will take place on Sunday February 12th.