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Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Down on the Farm: Ladysmith Black Mambazo's new album collects South African children's songs from their rural youth.
Rajesh Jantilal
Down on the Farm: Ladysmith Black Mambazo's new album collects South African children's songs from their rural youth.

Since they only appeared on a couple of songs, it wouldn't be entirely accurate to say Ladysmith Black Mambazo stole Paul Simon's 1986 album Graceland out from under him. (It would be accurate to say that about Simon's corresponding Saturday Night Live appearance, though.) But Ladysmith's association with Simon helped smooth over some of the pricklier cultural issues raised by an American singer-songwriter appropriating African music as his own; more important, Graceland gave Ladysmith a foothold on Western audiences the nine-member a cappella ensemble has not relinquished 25 years later. Following several Grammy Awards and collaborations with everyone from Michael Jackson and Dolly Parton to Ben Harper and Taj Mahal, leader Joseph Shabalala's group comes full circle on brand-new album Songs From a Zulu Farm, revisiting the music of their rural youth. Trivia: "Mambazo" is Zulu for "ax," added to the group's name to represent their mission to "chop down" rival vocal groups — which they did with such efficiency and regularity Ladysmith was eventually stricken from competing in the singing contests that gave them their start in the '60s.

 
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