Indigenous Sweet delivery

Sweet delivery

I admit to being nervous about writing a review of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM). I enjoy a dip into isicathamiya but I’m more of a jazz guy. True, they’re on the Jazz Festival but LBM aren’t jazz, although some of their harmonies are reminiscent of a big band sax section, and their Zulu roots are also the roots of many South African jazzmen.

As it turns out, their show on the Festival is showbiz. Beautiful music, faithful to their tradition and beliefs, but showbiz nonetheless, from the comedy of stepping out of line, pretending to lose a microphone, upstaging each other with traditional dance kicks, to a faux encore in the form of Old MacDonald Had a Farm before their actual closer, Shosholoza. These days LBM spend little time in South Africa – so this is their first appearance at the Festival; thus they’ve had about 25 years of learning to make their particular brand of repetitive music accessible to Western ears. Pity about the tacky dry ice and backcloth projection, neither adding anything to the act.

As I was enjoying one of their well-drilled dance routines in their modest but stylish uniforms of African print shirts, I couldn’t help contrasting them with the more sinister men I’d seen the day before in Anthony Akerman’s anti-war play, Somewhere on the Border, from about the time that LBM met Paul Simon.

Unlike the army, though, the mbube group’s message is one of Love, Peace and Harmony. Unlike real drill sergeants, Papa Joseph Shabalala has realised that audiences enjoy the “mistakes”, the breaking of ranks, the horseplay of competitive males. There are four Shabalala Juniors in the group and Papa Joseph good-naturedly lets the kids play the fool every now and then. At one point, two women from the audience took up the invitation to join them on stage.

Homeless was there, of course, and it still packs a punch when heard live. It’s clear that two Grammys, Dolly Parton and world adoration has not diverted Ladysmith Black Mambazo from what most appeals about them – a message of caring, delivered in the sweetest possible way.

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