‘Shabalala will live forever in his music’

2020-02-19 06:01
Joseph Shabalala performing at the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup before the final between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City in Soweto. Shabalala has died at the age of 78. PHOTOS: FILE

Joseph Shabalala performing at the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup before the final between Netherlands and Spain at Soccer City in Soweto. Shabalala has died at the age of 78. PHOTOS: FILE

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DR BHEKIZIZWE Joseph Shabalala, the founder of world renowned, Grammy-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo, died at the Life Eugene Marais Hospital in Pretoria on Tuesday.

The group’s manager, Xolani Majozi, said the 78-year-old had been suffering from complications resulting from back surgery in 2012 that had left him wheelchair-bound.

In a statement on Twitter, Lady­smith Black Mambazo, who are currently touring in Europe and the United Kingdom, said: “Our founder, our teacher and most importantly, our father, left us today for eternal peace.

“We celebrate and honour your kind heart and your extraordinary life. Through your music and the millions who you came in contact with, you shall live forever.”

Shabalala, who was born on August 28, 1941, formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 1964. He named the isicathamiya group after his hometown, adding the word Black as a reference to oxen, a nod to his early life working on a farm, and ‘mambazo’, the Zulu word for an axe, to symbolise the group’s vocal strength.

A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to the group’s first recording contract with Gallo Records and the release of the album Amabutho.

They have since recorded more than 60 albums, have been nominated for 17 Grammy Awards and have won five of the coveted music gongs for Shaka Zulu (1988), Raise Your Spirit Higher (2004), Ilembe (2009), Singing For Peace Around The World (2013) and Shaka Zulu Revisited (2018). In 1985, American singer and songwriter Paul Simon incorporated the group’s rich tenor, alto and bass harmonies into his Graceland album, helping to introduce Ladysmith Black Mambazo to an international audience.

The album included the hits Homeless, Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes and You Can Call Me Al. As leader of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Shabalala also recorded with Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan and Josh Groban; and the group’s music was used in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video, Disney’s The Lion King, Part II, and Clint Eastwood’s Invictus. In a statement released in 2008, Shabalala — who was awarded an honourary doctorate by the Durban University of Technology in 2015 — said the group’s aim had always been to spread a message of peace, love and harmony around the world.

“Ladysmith Black Mambazo was never about one person. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a mission. A mission to spread our message and to keep our culture alive and known,” he added.

“South Africa is a most wonderful place, filled with beautiful people. By touring, as we have, almost seven months every year for over 20 years, we have wanted to keep South Africa alive in people’s hearts.”

As news of Shabalala’s death broke, scores of fans, fellow musicians, the South African government and political parties took to social media to pay tribute to him. Sending his condolences to the family, Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuzo described Shabalala as a friend and a “giant humble man”.

And in its tribute, the Soweto Gospel Choir said: “May your soul rest in peace. Uyidlalile indima yakho kwezomculo [He played his role in the music industry]. We love you. #YourLegacyLivesOn.”

A favourite of former president Nelson Mandela, Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo travelled with the future South African president when he went to Oslo, Norway, to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. A year later they sang at the inauguration of the newly elected president. The group also sang at the 2010 Soccer World Cup final. In 2014 Shabalala retired, passing the torch to his sons, Thulani, Sibongiseni and Thamsanqa, all of whom joined Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 1993.

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