Interview with Albert Mazibuko, Ladysmith Black Mambazo

After a year of sparkling sales-nearly a million of their ‘Best Of’ collection were shifted from the shelves-Ladysmith Black Mambazo have a new album set for release. The album, titled ‘In Harmony’, is timed to coincide with October’s Rugby World Cup, which Ladysmith will be opening with a 1,000-strong Welsh choir. 

The new release is aimed at bringing together material from nearly forty albums recorded in the thirty years of the band’s existence. Founder member Albert Mazibuko took some time out from the group’s recent UK tour to explain. 

“We wanted to take the opportunity to bring together some of our very favourite songs,” he said. “We have gained new members with different singing styles, and of course there is all this new technology, so we thought we would rerecord some of our songs dating back to the early Seventies.” 

Ladysmith formed in South Africa in the mid-1960s from a number of bands singing in the Zulu-chanting ‘isicathamiya’ style. But it wasn’t until group leader Joseph Shabalala co-wrote ‘Homeless’ for Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’ album in 1986 that the band made an impact overseas. 

Albert explains: “The music has changed very much in the last fifteen years, because we have written about what we were experiencing at the time. Our original aim with these songs from the Seventies was to bring hope to the people of South Africa, to encourage them not to lose touch with their culture. There is a great threat to that culture because of the flood of radio and TV.” 

As well as revisiting familiar turf, ‘In Harmony’ contains versions of ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ with Des’ree, and ‘Beautiful Vision’ with Van Morrison. A collaboration with The Lighthouse Family is also promised. 

“We met Des’ree when we sang at the Concert for Linda McCartney,” explains Albert. “We needed a little time to adjust, but the result was very good. The work with Van Morrison was just perfect. He is very easy to sing with.” 

“We are also hoping to set up a school in South Africa to teach students singing, and to help them celebrate Zulu culture. We want to learn as much as possible in our collaborations with other artists so we can bring this back to the school and teach properly to the students.” 

The new album also sees Ladysmith tread new ground with a remix of old standard ‘Abezizwe’ by British producers D’Influence. Albert laughs: “We approved it, yes. Those people have honoured our music. I don’t know how they did it, but it works wonderfully. I thought it might mix the song’s story up [the remix divides the chorus with a section of verse] but it goes very well.” 

As well as promoting ‘In Harmony’, Ladysmith will be appearing at the MOBO awards with Des’ree, and providing backing on the new album from Irish popstrels B*witched. Does Albert know who they are? “Well, we had seen them a lot on television in the UK,” he laughs, “but we never thought they would want to work with us!” 

‘In Harmony’ is due out on 18th October on Wrasse Records.

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