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Ladysmith Black Mambazo

They have been performing for the past 50 years, and have been nominated for Grammy, Tony, Emmy, and Academy awards.

Nelson Mandela called them “South Africa’s cultural ambassadors.”

They are Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a male a cappella choral group from South Africa that performs all around the world teaching about their country and culture.  

In 1960 Joseph Shabalala and several of his relatives formed a group called Ezimnyama (“The Black Ones”). They performed traditional Zulu music called isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-Ya), a singing style without instruments.

The group became very popular and won many local isicathamiya competitions. They were so good that they were banned from competing in the competitions.

In 1964, Shabalala reformed the group with younger relatives and changed the group’s name to Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Ladysmith, KwaZulu-Natal is the hometown of the Shabalala family, a small farming area between Johannesburg and Durban. Black represents the black ox – a strong farm animal. Mambazo is Zulu for “axe,” as in “chopping down” their competition.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Joe Mabel / CC BY-SA (

During the next two decades, Ladysmith Black Mambazo was the most successful singing group in South Africa.

International recognition peaked in 1985 when Paul Simon, an American singer/songwriter, went to South Africa looking for musicians for his album Graceland and met Shabalala.

For the next several years, they recorded together.  The album was released in 1986 and was a huge success.

Simon produced Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s first album Shaka Zulu in 1987, which won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Recording the following year. Since then, Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s career has included

  • recording more music, including collaborations with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, George Clinton, Josh Groban, and more
  • performing at popular venues around the world
  • accompanying Nelson Mandela on his trip to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize and singing at his presidential inauguration
  • appearing in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video and on Spike Lee’s Do It A Cappella show
  • providing soundtrack recordings for Disney’s The Lion King, Part II and several other movies
  • recording Sesame Street songs such as The African Alphabet with Kermit the Frog
  • being featured in a film documentary, On Tip Toe:  Gentle Steps to Freedom, the Story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo (nominated for an Academy Award)
  • creating The Ladysmith Black Mambazo Foundation to teach young Zulu South African children about their traditional culture and music

Joseph Shabalala retired in 2008. His sons and other members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo continue to keep South African culture alive by touring around the world and sharing their message of peace, love, and harmony – performing six or more months every year! Maybe they’re performing near you!

Welcome to our Olympics for Kids series! The Olympics are a wonderful opportunity to teach kids about the world and explore cultures together.
Find more music posts about various countries thanks to our participating bloggers:

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Sons for Past Sports Championships and the Olympics – La Cité des Vents
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Don’t forget that you can also download our Summer Games Unit activity pack to learn more about the world and have fun during the Olympics.