Paul Simon & LadySmith Black Mombazo- 1987
I’ve never quite identified why this music reaches deep into my soul and resonates so completely that it gives me goosebumps and tranquility simultaneously every time I listen. Perhaps it’s the perfect harmonies, perhaps the tonality or the phrasing. When Paul Simon brought this group to the world’s attention, it was ground-breaking. The western-African/Zulu collaboration opened our eyes to yet another world-music.
Paul Simon traveled to South Africa in 1985 in the hopes of collaborating with local musicians. He met and worked with Joseph Shabalala and wrote this song, “Homeless”. The album Graceland was then released in late 1986, and although both Joseph Shabalala and Paul Simon were accused of breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa, the album became a huge success and sold 16 million copies and further boosted Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s international image. Simon and LadySmith performed on Saturday Night Live in New York City before the album was released. Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles including pop, a cappella, isicathamiya, rock, and mbaqanga. It won the Grammy Album of the Year in 1987.
Apartheid was abolished 1994, which helped allow the group to tour worldwide, which they continue to do up to the present time. In January 1999, Joseph Shabalala founded The Ladysmith Black Mambazo Foundation to teach young Zulu South African children about their traditional culture and music; isicathamiya (the traditional Zulu music-form). The Mambazo Academy is being built, with plans for a rehearsal hall, teaching areas and a professional recording studio. The main aim, of course, is to promote and teach the history of isicathamiya music to children.
Simon produced LadySmith’s first album, Shaka Zulu, in 1987 which won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Recording in 1988.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo accompanied the future President of South Africa to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway at the request of Nelson Mandela, in 1993. Mambazo sang again at President Mandela’s inauguration in May 1994, and then later at his birthday celebrations.