Grace sustains the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, strength undiminished in the face of oppression and belief unshaken by he continuing presence of hardship. Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a now-legendary South African a capella
vocal group in existence since the early 1960’s, has maintained its belief in the rightness of its faith, and now it has survived the demise of Apartheid. Even so, leader Joseph Shabalala still undergoes loss; his wife was murdered in 2002 and his brother Ben (and Ladysmith Black Mambazo singer) was murdered in 2004. His response? To "raise the spirit higher" and oppose tragedy with a stronger immersion in his Christian faith, as have countless other victims of senseless misfortune. Having founded the group as a competitive singing group forming its sound from that developed by impoverished South African miners, Joseph Shabalala has infused Ladysmith Black Mambazo with a steadfast spiritual purpose that has affected celebrities like Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder, and even heads of state like Queen Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela (as well as audiences of Sesame Street
and films like Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America.)
Though Shabalala and the other members of the group believe in Christian principles to guide them through life’s vicissitudes, he has no interest in proselytizing. Rather, Shabalala’s interest is in giving comfort to audiences who seek reassurance and answers to life’s most profound questions. So, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, in its latest HeadsUp release, No Boundaries,
intends to reach worldwide audiences of various faiths, no matter where they worship, as testaments of triumph over adversity and the irrepressibility of spiritual faith in the presence of dare I utter the word? evil. . Even though Shabalala chooses traditional Christian songs like "Amazing Grace" and "Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring" for inclusion on No Boundaries,
the spiritual message is one of oneness instead of separation.
Unlike Raise Your Spirit Higher - Wenyukela,
which involved consistent South African-based traditions, No Boundaries
merges seemingly disparate musical genres, the centuries-old Zulu-derived folkloric music of South Africa with the centuries-old European classical music tradition, and executive producer Robert Brooks is just the person to make it work. For Brooks is the chairman of the International Classical Music Festival
, whose mission is to make people aware internationally of African’s musical heritage by combining indigenous African music with classical works. German arranger Isak Roux, having been born in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, understands the mission as well.
Thus, we hear Schubert, Mozart and Bach sung in a way never heard before by a group that, though not raised in the continent of the music’s origin, understands its reverent feel and unabashedly incorporates it in their renditions. The synthesis is no more apparent than on "Sanctus," on which Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s a-continent-away perspective contrasts with the traditional operatic singing of tenor Robert Brooks. "Amazing Grace" refers to the group’s arrangement, this time orchestrated, with Paul Simon from its Journey Of Dreams
Even though Roux re-arranges some of his own European-based compositions like "Dona Nobis Pacem" for Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the commonality of its gospel origins apparent within the English Chamber Orchestra’s accompaniment, the vocal group applies some of the lessons of its homeland’s music to the universality of its message. "Rejoice," rearranged for No Boundaries,
encourages enthusiastic worship through the joy of the music, or "Awu Wemadoda," conveying its message through contrapuntal weaving whose texture is unique to the group, presents the age-old symbol of the quest as a guide for spiritual enrichment.
By taking its music a step further with the addition of the English Chamber Orchestra, Ladysmith Black Mambazo adds another dimension to its signature music that has inspired listeners within its own country and gradually around the world for decades.