There is no greater joy than watching a 65-year-old man do a kick that would make even the Rockettes jealous, except watching his 71-year-old brother show him up by performing a flawless jump-kick combination that would put any professional dancer to shame.
This is the kind of energy and panache that five-time Grammy Award winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo brought to the stage at Trinity Cathedral this past Sunday. The South African choral group originally rose to fame after collaborating with Paul Simon on his 1986 album “Graceland.” The group revitalized Simon’s sound with their trademark rhythms and sounds based off of their native Zulu traditions: isicathamiya and mbube. Perhaps one of their most memorable examples of their style is the “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”
However, this example does the group no justice. From the moment they stepped on stage, Ladysmith Black Mambazo captured the audience. Wasting no time for words, the group launched into a rich, full arrangement driven by a strong repetitive beat with energetic choreography.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo introduces novel sounds and beats that blend seamlessly into a harmonic structure most Western listeners will find both familiar and refreshingly unique. Every song they sang was driven by descriptive lyrics, both in Zulu and English, with the added flair of the group’s superb vocal abilities that swept the audience along with the group.
What makes the group extraordinary is their energy and camaraderie. Most of the members are related to each other in one way or another or have strong ties to the men who founded the group 59 years ago. The group found moments during the performance to make each moment special, for the audience and each other.
Despite the carefully choreographed and synchronized moves, dance breaks were common, even leading to a spontaneous dance off near the end of the concert. The showdown was perfectly set off with group’s steady bass line and the whoops and cheers from the audience and performers alike.
The true difference between Ladysmith Black Mambazo and any other concert I have been to is their infectious joy. Like most stadium concerts headlined by pop stars, there were songs about losing love, finding true love, taking a journey and socially conscious rallying cries to end racism and sexism. But this is one of the few times that I have believed that a group meant what they were singing about.
The members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo don’t just feel the joy of finding love when they were writing their love songs, they feel that love every time they perform and they share it with the audience. Their choreography added to the performance, rather than simply distracting me with shirtless men and flashing lights meant to hide how bad the artist is at dancing. In fact, their dance moves were one of the most exciting aspects of the concerts, coming out when you least expected it.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a return to well-written music performed for the love of music. It is an elevated form of pop music for those who are bored of overplayed love songs that lost all meaning two weeks ago. Step outside of your comfort zone and discover why Ladysmith Black Mambazo has 17 Grammy nominations and five wins over an impressive 59 year career. Their second most recent album, “Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Celebration,” is streaming now on Amazon and Spotify and is highly worth your time.