Ladysmith Black Mambazo at The Barns of Wolf Trap by Erica Laxson


Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed at The Barns at Wolf Trap last night, just 24 hours after they won their 4th Grammy Award for Live: Singing For Peace Around The World, the 2013 Best World Music Album. The Zulu a cappella group exuberantly sang some of their most popular songs as well as a few numbers from, Always with Us their new album honoring the group’s matriarch. The evening was a heartwarming cultural exploration filled with happiness, love, and the unstoppable urge move along with unique South African rhythm.

Ladysmith Black Mombazo. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.
Ladysmith Black Mombazo. Photo courtesy of Wolf Trap.

While the group’s founder, Joseph Shabalala, was recovering from surgery, his descendants, Msizi Shabalala, Thulani Shabalala, Sibongiseni Shabalala, and Thamsanqa Shabalala represented the family name on stage along with group members Albert Mazibuko, Abednego Mazibuko and Ngane Dlamini. The South African performers delighted the crowd with the sights and sounds of their culture, highlighted by the traditional clothing of their homeland and a variety of dances. Acting as self proclaimed “cultural ambassadors,” we were invited to sing and clap along in harmony as they introduced different parts of their world through song.

Though the group features only a cappella singing, there was no doubt that finely crafted musical instruments graced the stage. The incredible vocal control and lyrical message engages the soul of any music lover, but it was also enjoyable to watch the group sway and undulate their bodies with such precision that a well timed exhale would intentionally change the inflection of notes and sounds as they danced. Even the distance each singer stood from the microphone was incorporated into their perfectly timed choreography as they used the amplification or lack thereof to create echoes, soft tones, and symphonic sounds.

The traditional dances often set or added to the melodies created by mouth and unique acrobatic talents of the team were comedic highlights of the night as members teased and joked with each other. In an international moment of reverence the audience was treated to a Nelson Mandela tribute in the second act. Their moving performance of “Long Walk to Freedom” sent shivers down the spine as his life was honored by a group who believes in every fiber of Mandela’s message. The beautifully sung “Wimoweh,” and “Homeless” were well recognized by fans in the audience, but new songs like “No More Sorrow” and “Izembe Miana” thrilled both old and new listeners alike as the memory of Joseph Shabalala’s wife, Nellie, was honored.

Culturally choreographed, with a little New World fusion mixed in, our immersion into the African world was carefully organized to highlight the group’s message of peace and harmony between all creeds and colors. Ladysmith Black Mambazo first came into the international spotlight after working with Paul Simon on his 1986 recording, Graceland, though the group has been performing since the 1960s. The years of touring across the globe are evident in each song flavored by the group’s diverse experiences and the unity of their South African roots. Five stars for an evening that will play your heart strings like never before and inspire you to sing, dance, and do more good deeds in the world. The perfect evening for those who crave unique cultures, parents eager to introduce a child to a new world, and anyone who enjoys the soulful sounds of a cappella music with a twist.

Running Time: Two hours, plus a 20-minute intermission.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed on January 27, 2014 and will return for one more show on February 5, 2014 at The Barns at Wolf Trap – 1551 Trap Road, in Vienna, VA. For future events at The Barns, visit their website.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo website.


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