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Raise Your Spirit - Wenyukela by Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Mention African music today, and most people think of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.Cultural emissaries at home and around the world, their innovative, tightly choreographed style of Zulu choral singing has come to represent the traditional culture of South Africa.

Leader Joseph Shabalala organized the Grammy Award-winning group in 1960. Their work with Paul Simon on Graceland (1986) attracted millions of new fans who had never heard the captivating subtleties of Zulu harmony.

Raise Your Spirit Higher - Wenyukela is charged with a blend of spirituality and sensuality. Ladysmith’s Heads Up debut deals with issues of death and the fight against apartheid, but brims with life and the rebirth of freedom. A special track features Shabalala’s grandchildren performing a rap in English that laments the death of Shabalala’s wife of 28 years, who was shot and killed outside their church in South Africa in May 2002.

The group’s name is derived from Ladysmith, Shabalala’s rural home town; black, a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and mambazo, the Zulu word for axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to chop down any singing rival who might challenge them.

Raise Your Spirit Higher - Wenyukela is part of Heads Up’s Africa Series, which includes Africa Straight Ahead, to be released in February, and last fall’s Smooth Africa II. Both feature various artists who claim Africa as their home and jazz musicians whose music includes African influences.

The casual listener my recognize Ladysmith’s vocal style. The group’s soothing vocals have been featured in Life Savers commercials and the Disney’s The Lion King II. Other credits include works with Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton. Their film work includes appearances in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video, Spike Lee’s Let’s Do It a Cappella, and Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America.

For more than 30 years, Ladysmith Black Mambazo have married the intricate rhythms of their native musical traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel music. The result is a spiritual alchemy that has touched a worldwide audience representing every corner of the religious, cultural and ethnic landscape.

The opening song, Wenyukela, is about Jesus rising after the crucifixion and talks about how South Africans were nearly misled into killing one another during the elections. It also mentions Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s rise to stardom through hardships.

Wenza Ngani? is about a racist. He calls someone who is not a racist to teach him the error of his ways. He then asks him how he was able to change someone’s ways.

Because I Love is a tribute to Ladysmith (Mnambithi), the group’s home town in KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Next are two self-explanatory songs, Black Is Beautiful and Music Knows No Boundaries.

Fak’ Ibhande (Don’t Drink and Drive) is part of a road safety campaign that also encourages people to use their seat belts. It includes the refrain, "Arrive alive."

The album closes with Tribute, a song composed by Shabalala’s grandsons as a tribute to his late wife, Nellie.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  • CD Title: Raise Your Spirit - Wenyukela
  • Genre: World Music
  • Year Released: 2004
  • Record Label: Heads Up
  • Rating: Four Stars
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