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Their long walk to freedom

Ladysmith Black Mambazo celebrates 45 years of promoting peace through music

Ladysmith Black Mambazo will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at the Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park. They have been playing world music for 45 years.
Courtesy photo

Key Points

¤ Ladysmith Black Mambazo ¤ 8 p.m. ¤ Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park, 900 Strings Road ¤ $44 ¤ 879-5056

Nelson Mandela’s bodyguards tried to stop him from going on stage while Ladysmith Black Mambazo performed during his 1991 birthday party.

“He stood up and came straight to the stage, and then he did the dancing he does,” Ladysmith Black Mambazo band member Albert Mazibuko said, referring to Mandela’s dance style as “Madiba.”

“You just hold your hands in front of you, but apart from each other. You dance like left and right and go a little bit forward and a little bit back,” Mazibuko said. “I can try to do it, but it’s his dance.”



That birthday performance was the first time the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo saw Mandela after his released from prison. Mazibuko was surprised that after the performance, Mandela approached the band and said, “Keep up the good job. Your music was a great inspiration when I was in jail, and it gave me hope that in South Africa, someday things will be OK.”

“It was so weird. I didn’t expect him to say that about our music,” Mazibuko said. “I was very honored.”



After a performance for the Queen of England, Prince Charles asked the band members how his country could help South Africa.

“Just pray for our independence,” said Joseph Shabalala, who assembled the band in the early 1960s.

The band’s newest album, “Long Walk to Freedom,” celebrates South Africa’s 12 years of democracy, the band’s 45 years of existence and its 30th anniversary of touring around the world.

Key Points

¤ Ladysmith Black Mambazo

¤ 8 p.m.

¤ Strings in the Mountains Music Festival Park, 900 Strings Road

¤ $44

¤ 879-5056

Most of the band members grew up in Ladysmith, South Africa, a very secluded area between Johannesburg and Durban.

“We didn’t have any roads and might stay there a whole year without seeing a car,” Mazibuko said. “We would walk five to six hours to get to the bus stop to get into town.”

It was from the town of Ladysmith that the band got their unique sound. Inspiration came from the sounds made by cows, goats, water and birds singing in the forest. The music also stems from a traditional type of music called isicathamiya.

“A long time ago, when our forefathers went to mines and factories to work in cities and towns, they try to sing that music to entertain themselves because they were away from home, family and loved ones,” Mazibuko said.

They scared people when they danced and stomped because homes in those days were built with wooden floors.

“In order to make peace, they started tiptoeing. When they are not stomping, they were praised,” Mazibuko said. “Isicathamiya means tiptoe, or walk lightly with toes.”

“We have music when waking to make our tasks lighter. We have music for comforting someone when someone dies,” he said. “And the most beautiful music is the wedding music or when we have something to celebrate.”

Mazibuko’s grandmother was a psychic and used music to help her fall asleep.

“She has to sing before she goes to sleep and dance to communicate with the spirits as a way of telling the spirits that she needs her rest,” Mazibuko said.

He learned a great deal from his grandmother about how to take care of a family, stay out of trouble and survive.

“Also when I was teenager, she told me, ‘When I believe in myself and do what I like, I might be able to make a living from it,'” Mazibuko said. “I didn’t believe her at the time, but now it is happening.”


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