Pop Life

The Whole Wide World: Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Live! DVD

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Live! (Heads Up)


Though international audiences did not discover this South African vocal group until it appeared on Paul Simon's landmark 1986 album Graceland, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been active since the early '60s, when founder Joseph Shabalala started the a capella isicathamiya choir alongside friends and family back in his hometown of Ladysmith.

Since hitting the spotlight more than two decades ago, the Grammy-winning group went on to become South Africa's cultural ambassadors, touring relentlessly around the world eight months a year in addition to making new music, participating in other musicians' recordings while also being the face of the Mambazo Foundation, a nonprofit educational organization started by Shabalala in 1999.

"Hello My Baby"

On this DVD captured live at the University of Akron, Ohio, the group's latest incarnation (which includes four of Shabalala's sons) go through its vast catalogue, including the celebratory "Long Walk To Freedom," the more innocent "Hello My Baby" and of course "Homeless," one of the songs recorded with Paul Simon. As someone who has seen them numerous times on stage, I must say that the DVD is equally captivating, showing the group from various angles and giving viewers a full scope of their musical dynamics.

In one of the set's greatest moments, the group leaves the stage and one member stays behind to teach the audience how to sing a few notes from "Thulanhlizilo." As the singers return, they all sing together - one of the finest examples of audience participation. Another thrill is "Amazing Grace," which closes the show - a great version that blends influences from American gospel with Mambazo's own style - a fitting ending for a wonderful concert.

To make things even more interesting, the DVD includes an in-depth interview with Joseph Shabalala, in which he talks about the group's '60s origins, its involvement with Paul Simon, the Mambazo Foundation and much more. In one hilarious part, he describes when Simon hugged him in public - the first time he'd been embraced by a white man - and the thought that came to his mind, reflecting how Apartheid affected blacks in South Africa at the time:

"I am sure I am going to jail now." - Ernest Barteldes

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Ernest Barteldes