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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu (Gallo/Heads Up International)

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo unites native South African musical traditions with Christian sentiment and political context. It makes sense that the country’s premier vocal group would record an album honoring the iconic warrior Shaka Zulu. But instead of glorifying violence—Zulu imbued South Africans with an indomitable fighting spirit in the early 1800s—Ilembe (“The Greatest Warrior”) celebrates perseverance and commitment.

By incorporating its signature a cappella harmonies and tongue clicks into a collection of songs that reference Zulu’s beliefs and practices, and their relevance in contemporary society, Ladysmith addresses the importance of working toward a common good, overcoming obstacles, avoiding jealousy and praising a higher power. “Prince of Peace,” the only song sung completely in English, even draws parallels between Shaka Zulu and Jesus Christ.

The big surprise isn’t how organic, sweet and melodious the group’s eight current members sound here; it’s that Ilembe wasn’t made earlier in the band’s 35-year recording career.