Thursday, January 30, 2014

Roving Pittsburgher Report - Freedom to Sing
A Review of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Jan. 29th 2014 Performance

Freedom to Sing
It was cold outside, but inside the Byham Theater hearts and souls were warmed by the tight harmonies, high-kicking energy, and inspiring message of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The four time Grammy Award winning, singing group from South Africa shared not only their beautiful music and rich culture, but an uplifting message of love, peace, and harmony.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo was formed in the early 1960’s by Joseph Shabalala with the mission of preserving South Africa’s musical and cultural heritages. Maintaining that mission is also a family tradition. Five of the ten current singers are 2nd or 3rd generation family members. And their newest album Always With Us, is a tribute to Nellie Shabalala, Joseph’s late wife and matriarch of the family.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
(photo credit: Erica Gannett)
They sang in a style called isicathamiya, with origins from Zulu men, who worked far from their homes in mines and factories before 1900. The men would come together in small groups singing in call-and-response about themes ranging from the brutal working conditions and homelessness to the things they missed about from their homeland and dreams for their future.

Now about the kicking… While some of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s songs are about sad or challenging subjects, the end messages are of hope, perseverance and victory. And those are to be celebrated. In addition to the 4-part acappella singing of beautiful tenor melodies and robust bass harmonies, the isacathamiya style has a strong dance component. The dance moves enrich the story telling of the songs and can also feature dance solos. So, the exuberant high-kicking while singing was a sign of celebration of promise and joy. They also clearly had fun doing it. It was fun and entertaining for the audience too!

To celebrate the life of South African President Nelson Mandela, they sang “Long Walk to Freedom,” which carried the familiar biblical sentiment of “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

They closed their concert with the unifying South African folk song “Shosholoza.” Mandela said, “the song compares the apartheid struggle to the motion of an oncoming train" and that while imprisoned "the singing made the work lighter." Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music was a moving testament to the power of music to unify people and sustain hope - hope for freedom for all.

By: Stephanie Curtice
Good News and Cultural Reporter
(c) 2013

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