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Ladysmith Black Mambazo: No Boundaries

Woodrow Wilkins By

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Musicians are known to have a "voice"?—a distinctive sound or style of playing that sets them apart from others. Even if you haven't heard the song or been given any kind of heads up about a new recording, it doesn't take long for you to figure out who is performing. That is especially true of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the South African vocalists who are as comfortable a cappella as they are with accompaniment. Recent winners of the Grammy award for Traditional World Music Album for the 2004 release Raise Your Spirit Higher , the group continues to charm and entertain.

No Boundaries , a collaborative effort with the strings of the English Chamber Orchestra and the International Festival Orchestra, is the latest in the Heads Up Africa Series. Featuring an eclectic mix of delightful folk tunes, spirituals and European classical music, the album reiterates Ladysmith Black Mambazo's status as one of the world's most enduring—and endearing—vocal ensembles.

Perhaps the process makes the difference—a close parallel to the origins of American blues music. The group borrows heavily from a traditional music called isicathamiya , which developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and families. Poorly housed and paid worse, the mine workers would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours on Sunday morning. When they returned to their homelands, this musical tradition returned with them.

In their unique style of merging those traditions with Christian gospel music, Ladysmith Black Mambazo scores beautifully on the new album, paying tribute to such classics as "Amazing Grace,"? "Dona Nobis Pacem"? and "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."? They take it even higher with vocal renditions of works by some of the masters, such as Schubert's "Sanctus (Heilig, Heilig, Heilig)"? and Mozart's "Ave Verum Corpus."? Founder and principal arranger Joseph Shabalala also contributes "Jabulani—Rejoice,"? a classic Mambazo song from the early album Thandani ("Homeless"?), which eloquently expresses the tragedy of the African experience, yet leaving a sense of hope and faith, and "Ngingenwe Emoyeni (Wind of the spirit of God),"? a Zionist church hymn.

One of the most interesting songs is "Lifikile Ivangeli,"? which at times sounds like it would be right at home in a medieval royal palace. In fact, it's of Scandanavian origin, but with Shabalala's treatment, it takes on a South African flavor, stretching toward an early Baroque arrangement and eventually to a sound more closely associated with the late Renaissance period. This complex, yet beautiful evolution exemplifies what Mambazo is all about. On the Grammy-winning Raise Your Spirit Higher , the group sang, "Music Knows No Boundaries."? On the new album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo proves it.

Track Listing: Jabulani-Rejoice; Homeless; Amu Wemadoda; Amazing Grace; Dona Nobis Pacem; Ngingenwe Emoyeni (Wind of the Spirit of God); Umzuzu Nayi Ujesu; Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring; Sanctus (Heilig, Heilig, Heilig); Ave Verum Corpus; Lifikile Ivangeli; Walil' Umtwana (The Child is Crying).

Personnel: Joseph Shabalala, Jockey Shabalala, Msizi Shabalala, Thulani Shabalala, Sibongiseni Shabalala, Thamsanqa Shabalala, Albert Mazibuko, Abednego Mazibuko, Russel Mthembu, Jabulani Dubazana- vocals; Ofer Falk, Benjamin Buckton, Alison Dods, Matthew Elston, Gillian Findlay, Richard George, Matthew Scrivener- violin; Clive Howard, Matthew Souter, Josephine St. Leon- viola; Lionel Handy, Simon Wallfisch- cello; Stephen Williams- double bass; Dawid Venter- flute; Simon Ball- bassoon; David Cohen- clarinet; Isak Roux- piano, harpsichord; Hanneke ver Schoor- English horn; Tim Roberts- oboe; Amarille Ackermman- harp; Barry van Zyl- African drums, drum set, percussion; Bernard Kisby-Green- timpani, timbales, percussion; Magda de Vries- marimba, vibraphone, percussion; Robert Brooks- added vocal on "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" and "Sanctus."

Title: No Boundaries | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Heads Up International


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