Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala dies aged 78


Joseph Shabalala was the founder of Lady Smith Black Mambazo

Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder, Joseph Shabalala who helped introduce the sound of traditional Zulu music to the world, has died aged 78.


The popular choral group, whose musical style was heavily influenced by isicathamiya and mbube (traditional music of the Zulu people), won five Grammy awards and featured heavily on Paul Simon's Graceland album.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo became one of South Africa's most prolific recording artists, with their releases receiving gold and platinum disc honours. They also reached number 15 in the UK charts with a cover of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, for the 1995 Rugby World Cup.


Shabalala died in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, the band's manager Xolani Majozi said.


"Yes it's true. Mr Shabalala passed on this morning."


"The group is on tour in the US, but they have been informed and are devastated because the group is family."


Shabalala was with his wife Thokozile in his final moments, said Majozi.


Shabalala's health had deteriorated in the last few years. As a result, he retired from the group in 2014 shortly after performing at a memorial concert for Nelson Mandela.

He continued to teach traditional choral music, while four of his sons (and one grandson) continued his legacy within Ladysmith Black Mambazo.


In 2017, he was admitted to hospital and had to undergo spinal surgery, and had struggled to get back on his feet since then. Earlier this year, he was again admitted to hospital due to ill health.


The South African Government paid tribute to him in a tweet, saying: "We would like to extend our condolences on the passing of Joseph Shabalala who was the founder of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.


It added in Xhosa, "Ulale ngoxolo Tata ugqatso lwakho ulufezile." (Rest in peace, father, your race is complete.)


Born in 1941, Shabalala was the eldest of eight children living on a farm in Tugela, near the town of Ladysmith in South Africa.


However, he was forced to leave school at the age of 12 when his father died, working on the family farm and, later, in a local factory.


In his spare time, he would sing with friends in a local group called the Blacks.


Shabalala later formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo because of a series of dreams he had in 1964, saying in them, he heard certain isicathamiya harmonies.


Following their local success at wedding ceremonies and other gatherings, he entered the group into isicathamiya competitions. The group was described as 'so good' that they were eventually forbidden to enter the competitions, but were welcomed to entertain them.


Ladysmith represented their hometown, Black referenced the black oxen that were the strongest on the farm, and Mambazo, from the Zulu word for axe, symbolized the group's ability to cut down the competition.


A radio performance in 1970 led to a recording contract, and in 1973 they released Africa's first gold-selling album, Amabutho. The group has since released over fifty studio recordings, mixed compilations and DVDs.


In January 1999, he founded The Ladysmith Black Mambazo Foundation. The aim of the organisation is to teach young Zulu South African children about their traditional culture and music, isicathamiya.


The Mambazo Academy followed and is aimed at giving aspiring artists the chance to learn from the group and engage with its members.The programme includes a series of music workshops as well.


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