Raise Your Spirit Higher

Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Heads Up.

They’ve been heard on everything from Paul Simon’s Graceland to TV candy commercials,
but Ladysmith Black Mambazo fare best singing for themselves. Led by Joseph Shabalala,
this 10-man South African ensemble specializes in radiant and soothing a cappella harmonies.
Though they sing mostly in Zulu, with English interludes, there’s no mistaking Ladysmith’s upbeat
mission, whether celebrating racial harmony in “Black Is Beautiful” or promoting seatbelt usage
in “Fak’ Ibhande.” While the exuberant call-and-response dynamics recall American gospel, Shabalala’s
tunes never lose their local flavor, down to a jovial invitation to invest in Africa (“Selingelethu
Sonke”). During apartheid, Ladysmith embodied patient, unbending resistance; today,
they’re the sound of pure joy.


  • Jon Young is a contributing writer for Mother Jones. For more of his stories, click here.

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