A special posting today on EJ - our first to highlight isicathamiya music, and who better to represent that genre than Ladysmith Black Mambazo?
The roots of this music go back hundreds of years into history. The proliferation of factories and mines brought scores of young Zulu men to the cities, away from their families and their lives, and into the unknown. The only way to ensure that the tradition was not lost among the men in the crowded hostels was to do that uniquely Zulu thing: to sing. And so, the men would spend their free weekends uniting in harmony and then forming their own groups to compete against each other - creating a tradition there and then that has lasted to this day. Even in 2011, Zulu hostel dwellers will still put on a show every Saturday evening and take part in all-night isicathamiya competitions.
After commercial releases of this music became popular, the style itself became widely referred to as mbube after the release of a song by Solomon Linda and his Original Evening Birds. (You all know that story!) But by the mid-1960s, the rather boisterous mbube had begun to fall out of favour after Enoch Masina's King Star Brothers cultivated a more soft, solemn and harmonious style, combined with likewise soft dance steps. But it was Ladysmith Black Mambazo, under the leadership of the golden-voiced Joseph Shabalala, who perfected this new style of music - first named cothoza mfana (slowly, boy) and later on isicathamiya (tread carefully).
It was not just the refined harmony that gave Mambazo the upper hand - it was the fact that their compositions were meticulously written and arranged by the astute Shabalala. The stories of life in the rural areas, the difficult adjustment to township life, and then (later on) the wonders of God and the church - together with the magic blend of one alto, one tenor, one lead and seven bass voices - all helped to cement the group's immediate popularity.
After some five or so years of airplay during Radio Zulu programming, Mambazo signed a record contract with Gallo Africa's Mavuthela division. West Nkosi, newly appointed producer at Mavuthela (and sax jive supremo), was to be Mambazo's producer for the next fifteen years. The public liked what they heard: Mambazo's debut LP, Amabutho (released in March 1973 on Motella LPBS/BL 14), sold over 25,000 copies and became the first LP by black musicians in South Africa to go gold.
Today, we present the tenth Mambazo LP, Ushaka, released in 1977 during their original domestic heyday.
MAMBAZO PERSONNEL on Ushaka:
Joseph Shabalala (lead)
Milton Mazibuko (alto)
Albert Mazibuko (tenor)
Groonwell Khumalo (bass)
Ben Shabalala (bass)
Olicent Madlala (bass)
Jabulani Mwelase (bass)
Russel Mthembu (bass)
Abednego Mazibuko (bass)
Jockey Shabalala (bass)
Funokwakhe Mazibuko (bass)