The Zulu word "Mambazo" refers to an ax - symbolic of the group's ability to "chop down" the competition. So good were they that after a time they were forbidden to enter the competitions but welcomed, of course, to entertain.

A radio broadcast in 1970 brought about their first record contract. Since then, the group has recorded close to forty albums, selling over three million records at home and abroad, establishing them as the number one record selling group in Africa. Their work with Paul Simon on the "Graceland" album attracted a world of fans who never knew that the subtleties of Zulu harmony could be so captivating. With "Graceland" sales of more than 10 million copies to date, the association with Simon assures they will be heard for years to come.

Their first album release for the United States, "SHAKA ZULU," was produced by Simon and won the Grammy Award in 1987 for Best Traditional Folk Recording. Since then, they have been nominated for a Grammy Award five additional times. The group has also recorded with numerous artists from around the world including Stevie Wonder, Julia Fordham, The Wynans, George Clinton and Dolly Parton.

Film work includes a featured appearance in Michael Jackson's video "Moonwalker" and Spike Lee's "Do It A Cappella". Mambazo provided soundtrack material for the recent video release of Disney's "The Lion King Part II" as well as Eddie Murphy's "Coming To America", Marlon Brando's "A Dry White Season", and James Earl Jones' "Cry The Beloved Country". Their performance with Paul Simon on Sesame Street is legendary - their appearance is one of the top three requested Sesame Street segments in history. Their list of commercial projects include CLIO Award winning commercials for 7 Up and Lifesavers Candy, as well as an "on camera" appearance for an IBM television campaign, "Solutions For a Small Planet", featuring people from around the world speaking of IBM computers in their native language, showing Mambazo singing at home in South Africa.

Amidst these accomplishments though has come tragedy. In December 1991, Joseph's brother Headman was shot and killed by an off duty private security guard in South Africa. Sentenced to three months house arrest, he has been free since. At the time of the slaying, when asked what the group would do without Headman, Joseph's answer was simple. "We will sing"', said Shabalala. "This is what we do."

Mambazo worked with the Steppenwolf Theater Company of Chicago to lend their singing and acting abilities to a play written about the apartheid era in South Africa. Premiering in Chicago in the spring of 1992, the play, The Song of Jacob Zulu, opened on Broadway in the spring of '93 and was nominated for six TONY AWARDS including the group's own nomination for Best Music for a Play. Joseph and the group were also honored with the prestigious Drama Desk Award for Best Original Score.

In 1995 Joseph collaborated with Song of Jacob Zulu director Eric Simonson and renowned writer Ntozake Shange ("for colored girls who've considered suicide...") in the staging of Nomathemba, a musical based on the first song ever written by Joseph. Nomathemba premiered in Chicago, and once again the group received unanimous praise for it's work and were awarded Chicago Theater's highest honor for Original Musical Score. In April 1996, Nomathemba made its Washington D.C. premiere at the renowned Kennedy Center for a sold out four week run. Nomathemba was once again brought to the stage during the Spring of 1998, where it was performed at the Shubert Theatre in Boston.

The summer of 1996 saw the group travel to London at the special invitation of President Mandela to perform for the Queen of England and Royal Family at the Royal Albert Hall. Meeting the Queen, as well as other members of the Royal Family, was a stirring moment for the group. As Joseph later said, "To think of all the people we have met over the years- people from North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and now the Queen of England. It is quite a dream for a Black South African to dream."

Mambazo performed two concerts at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. Having had their initial concert postponed because of the infamous bombing in the Olympic Park, the group was invited to join the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young and many others in the "Reopening the Park" ceremony, as the first performers to sing since the parks unfortunate but temporary closing. After this show, the group performed a private concert for the Olympic athletes in the Athletes' Village. Time does not seem to be slowing down Ladysmith Black Mambazo as they continue to travel the world for concert tours and special events, meeting new friends and reaching new audiences. 1998 was a special year internationally for the group as their release "Heavenly" reached the Top Ten in the U.K. and found the group in great demand. A follow up "Best Of" release has reached sales of close to one million and will be released throughout the rest of Europe during 1999. This has allowed for a busy European tour schedule. It also has allowed the group a wider audience to hear their message, a message Joseph delivers from the stage at the conclusion of every show, "Go with Peace, Love, and Harmony...Love one another!". 1999 will be filled with tours of the United States and a return to Europe. Japan, Australia and South America have tentative tours also scheduled.

Meanwhile, traditional life in South Africa continues to change. Cable television, MTV, and other international influences are taking its toll on tradition and Joseph sees the wonder and the peril in this progress. Always a man to find faith in his dreams, Joseph's life ambition now is to establish the first Acade-my for the teaching and preservation of indige-nous South African music and culture in South Africa. Aside from singing and writing, Joseph continues teaching young children the traditions his elders taught him. In fact, over the past several years, with the death of Headman and the retirement of three other members, Joseph has enlisted the talents of four of his sons...the next Mambazo generation. While bringing a youthful energy to the group, it shows the world, and Joseph, that his teachings and the traditions of his people will not disappear.

The group has devoted itself to raising the consciousness of South African culture, as well as Joseph's intention to fund the Music Academy during their U.S. tours. Attracting the financial and moral support of many, including Danny Glover and Whoopi Goldberg, was just the beginning. Black Mambazo's current and future tours continue to spread the word of Joseph's dream of preservation through education while encouraging all those who can, to give their support. Shabalala's appointment as an Associate Professor of Ethno Musicology at the University of Natal has given him a taste of the life of a scholar. "It's just like performing" says Joseph, beaming. "You work all day, correcting the mistakes, encouraging the young ones to be confident in their action. If they do not succeed I always criticize myself, I am their teacher. They are willing to learn. But it is up to me to see they learn correctly."

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Editor’s note:
Biographical notes culled from LBM’s website:



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