Local Wire

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

It wasn't until Ladysmith Black Mambazo's seminal work on Paul Simon's Grammy-winning Graceland that the world truly took notice of the South African a capella group, but the ensemble's been on a cross-cultural journey from the moment the members came together in the early 1960s. In the years since, they've worked with fellow Africans as well as international blues, jazz, hip-hop, soul, rock, and country artists, among others. Founded by Joseph Shabalala, LBM's strength is its ability to transform any song through vocal inflections that range from deep baritone to a soaring tenor, including precisely timed shouts, shuffles, whistles, trills, and animal-like sounds, along with handclaps and foot stomps for added depth and nuance. The singing style delves from the Zulu traditions of isicathamiya harmonies, something Shabalala took to heart after a series of recurring dreams instructed him to form a musical group. More than 50 albums along, the group's core songs remain based on South African folklore and traditions, mixed with occasional religious and political numbers. But the group has no problem tackling other musical styles, having covered Sam Cooke's "Chain Gang," "People Get Ready" by Curtis Mayfield, Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine," and even Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door."