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Ladysmith Black Mambazo shrug off power cut to sing for Mandela

Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed at the Celebrate Nelson Mandela concert at the Joburg Theatre on July 17 2022. File image
Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed at the Celebrate Nelson Mandela concert at the Joburg Theatre on July 17 2022. File image
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Ladysmith Black Mambazo sang their warm-hearted choral harmonies in honour of peace icon Nelson Mandela on Sunday, with a 45-minute forced intermission caused by load-shedding.

The concert at Joburg Theatre in Braamfontein a day before UN-declared International Mandela Day, his birthday, celebrated the life of the man who steered SA from the manacles of apartheid to multiracial democracy while narrowly avoiding a civil war.

“Madiba has been an inspiration for us,” said Sibongiseni Shabalala, band member and son of the band’s late founder Joseph Shabalala, using Mandela’s clan name.

“"He was in prison for people to get freedom. Even when they said ‘we will release you if you give up’, he said ‘no, my freedom is the freedom of my people’,” Shabalala told Reuters before the concert.

Formed in the 1960s, the choir jazzed up traditional Zulu music with a ragtime feel and exported it to the world, most famously through a collaboration with Paul Simon on the 1986 album Graceland.

It also cut songs with Dolly Parton, George Clinton, Michael Jackson and other big names.

“My father taught us a good song is one everyone can listen to. A song that will unite people,” Shabalala said, reminiscing about the founding member who died from illness in early 2020.

The band’s name derives from Ladysmith, the town its members come from, the black oxen which were prized among pastoral Zulus, and “mambazo”, the Zulu word for “axe”.

It was not closely associated with Mandela during the struggle against white minority rule, and was tolerated by the authorities as apolitical, something they misunderstood, according to longstanding singer Albert Mazibuko.

“We were on the same page [as Mandela],” he said.

When they performed at the former president’s birthday in 1993, Mandela told them their music had kept him going while in prison.

At the theatre packed with mostly affluent black South Africans on Sunday, the group got through three songs before a power cut took out the sound and stage lights — a reminder of major challenges facing the country nearly three decades since Mandela achieved his democratic dream.

About 45-minutes later, a generator rumbled on and the group resumed to loud applause. 


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