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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Arts and Entertainment

Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs Friday, June 11, at Hop Porter Park in Hailey.

Tiptoeing with Ladysmith Black Mambazo

A cappella group sings in Hailey

Express Staff Writer

Who’s to say why some music turns us on and some simply does not? Many people just want music that’s appropriate for simply sitting back and becoming lost. Other types want to feel their heart strings tugged; some look for witty lyrics. Then there’s the kind of music that can bring out the toe-tapping hip-moving groove in all of us. And who doesn’t like that?

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is one such music making group. This South African a cappella group, made up of nine men many from the same family, will be presented in concert Friday, June 11 at Hop Porter Park in Hailey. The Sun Valley Center for Arts is offering the event as part of its Summer Concert Series.

Formed by Joseph Shabalala in the mid-1950s, the group’s name comes from his hometown of Ladysmith, the strong black oxen found on farms and the Zulu word for ax, Mambazo. This last is symbolic of the group's ability to "chop down" the opposition in the singing competitions they entered. After years of cutting down those competitors, the group was forbidden to enter at all. Moving on, they recorded their first album in 1970. Since then they have released over 40 albums and have sold over 6 million records.

The music came from traditional Zulu singing called Isicathamiya. Born in the South African mines after long days underground, the miners called themselves Cothoza Mfana or "tip toe guys." While they sang, they also danced—soft and slight in movement—in a way that would not disturb the mining camp security guards.

While Shabalala’s group thrived at home, they were little known off the continent until someone passed on to Paul Simon a bootleg cassette with some African bands recorded on it.

Impressed by the tight bass, alto and tenor harmonies of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Simon recorded with their input in the 1986 album "Graceland." This album is considered a seminal reason for the continued explosion of interest in World Music.

Since then the band has gone on to win a Grammy Award in 1987 for Best Traditional Folk Album, plus six additional Grammy Award nominations, including one in 2001 for the album "Live From Royal Albert Hall."

As well, "On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps To Freedom," a documentary on Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Short Documentary Film in 2001. It was also nominated for an Emmy Award in 2002 for Best Cultural Documentary.

They have performed at two Nobel Prize ceremonies, for kings and queens, the Pope, at the Summer Olympics and in countless other venues.

Now it’s the Wood River Valley’s turn. Live, they are a wonder to behold, mesmerizing, stunning in sound and delightful to share time with.

Tickets for this show are available at the Sun Valley Center: $18 for adults and $5 for children. The show is at 7 p.m. Picnics, blankets and chairs are highly encouraged.


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The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.