Marking a half-century together as recording artists is a huge milestone for Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
However, that's not the only anniversary the revered Afro-pop vocal act is celebrating in 2010. It was also 25 years ago that Paul Simon traveled to South Africa in search of African musicians to sing on his now-classic album, "Graceland."
"It's hard to believe we first worked with Paul 25 years ago," vocalist Albert Mazibuko said while calling from Chicago. "Time flies. When I think back to when we first worked with Paul, well, that was amazing. But then again it's incredible that we have been around since 1960."
Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala is the lone original member, but Mazibuko has considerable seniority. "I'm proud to say that I've been a part of Ladysmith Black Mambazo for 41 years," he said. "That's most of my life, but my life is this music. We're all so happy to be part of this."
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Last month in Capetown, South Africa, the group was feted for its longevity and soothing but moving music. "We were given a huge cake," Mazibuko said. "The cake was so big that I think all we ate for the week was cake."
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which will perform Thursday at Bethel College in North Newton, is working off those extra calories on its American tour. The act, which recently delivered a spirited, passionate but playful show in New York, remains engaging in concert.
"We're not just going to sit around up there," Mazibuko said. "We're not as young as we once were but we still go up there, move around and have a good time. I think that's so because I'm the happiest onstage. Nothing pleases us as much as performing."
When he isn't touring the world, Mazibuko still lives not far from Durban, the coastal city in South Africa where it all began. He helps his wife run a small store ("She makes me work all the time"); they have seven children.
Working in the studio is something that Ladysmith Black Mambazo still loves, he said. After making more than 30 albums, the group recently finished work on its latest disc. However, don't expect the group to preview any new tracks in North Newton.
"The album is (scheduled) to be released at home (South Africa)," Mazibuko said. "I don't know when this album will be released here so we'll stay away from that, but we have plenty of material to choose from."
The power the group generates is organic. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is composed of seven bass voices, an alto, a tenor and Shabalala singing lead. Fans can feel their voices reverberating around the hall.
Mazibuko says he can't imagine his life without the group.
"Retirement is something we never think about," he said. "Anytime we take a break we get so many invitations to come back and perform. It's a great situation for a musician to be in.
"This group has been busy for much of its 50 years and hopefully we'll be busy for many more years."
If you go>
ladysmith black mambazo
What: Afro-pop group in concert
Where: Bethel College, 300 E. 27th, North Newton
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
How much: Tickets $10-$23 at 316-284-5247 or 620-327-8158.