Since Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s collaboration with Paul Simon on his 1986 album, “Graceland,” the group has toured worldwide.
The South African all-male a cappella group’s 2016 release, “Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers,” is currently nominated for a Grammy Award for Best World Music Album.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo is coming to North Newton on Tuesday, Feb. 7, as part of the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts Series – the second time the group has performed there (they previously came in 2010).
If you weren’t aware of the band’s seminal “Graceland” collaboration, you may have at least heard of the group – it was briefly referenced in the 2004 movie “Mean Girls.”
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The outlook for the 57-year-old vocal group was not always so rosy, however – for a large portion of its existence, it operated under the shackles of apartheid in South Africa.
Albert Mazibuko, who has sung with the group for 48 years, reflected on the group’s past and future in a phone interview earlier this week, from his hotel room in Seattle.
Responses have been edited for clarity.
Q. How well do you remember those early days singing in South Africa?
A. I remember every, every, everything. When (Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder) Joseph (Shabalala) approached me in 1969 – he founded the group in 1960, but in 1969 he came to me – I was with my brother and one of my cousins. The story he told us – he came to us because he knew that we will help him achieve what he wanted to achieve in music. He wanted to write music that is going to help the people be able to cope with the situation in South Africa at the time. So he said we will write the songs that are going to be powerful and make them stronger and tell them things are going to be OK if we stick together and work together in a peaceful way. That was our aim. I remember the first song he taught us that afternoon. … The song was pleading to God, saying we kneel before Thee, asking for peace in our country.
Q. How did apartheid affect Ladysmith Black Mambazo?
A. We had some boundaries as black people in South Africa – we had to have permission in that area. In 1973, when our music has been heard over the radio and everyone wants to see Ladysmith, we have some invitations from all over South Africa. The challenges started when we wanted to go to those places, because we had to travel. When we travel, we are going across the boundaries that allowed us to be there. I remember every time we were stopped by the police in the middle of the night. They said, “Where are you going? Do you have permission to be there?” We’d say we are the singers, and they’d say, “What do you sing?” So Joseph sang for them. It was powerful the way that they listened to us. That’s what we did. They let us go everywhere.
Q. What about working with Paul Simon? How did that change the group?
A. When we talk amongst ourselves, we say he was the engine to take that talent of ours and then take it out in the world. You just mentioned it was a time of cultural boycott, and he came on during that time. It was something that helped us that we were not aware of in that way. It was trying to pressure South Africa to become a free country. The first time he asked us to work with him, we said, “Wow, this is a good opportunity. We will have the opportunity to tell the world what is happening in South Africa.” … Right now we are known all over the world because of what he did.
Q. How do you hope people will respond to your music?
A. Our main mission is that we are promoting peace, love and harmony. Let me put it this way – in our songs, we are conveying a positive message to people all over the world, because we see the world. We still need peace. They still need to work together. They still need to relate to each other. Although we sing about some other things, we sing about love, hope and being good to each other, because we believe that music is something that’s going to help people lead a better life, make the place we are living in a better place to live.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
What: Performance by South African a cappella singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which won its fourth Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 2013 and is currently nominated for another.
When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Memorial Hall, Bethel College, 300 E. 27th Street, North Newton