Ladysmith Black Mambazo could sing the text to American Psycho
and make it sound as gentle as a lullaby. These singers are regarded as the foremost practitioners of South African vocal music, having received worldwide notice and acclaim when they appeared on Paul Simon’s 1986 recording Graceland
(recall the revelation of the introduction to "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes").
On their Heads Up debut, the South African dectette, led by Joseph Shabalala, sonically weaves its way through eight native Zulu pieces, two anglophonic pieces, and a final hip hop tribute with grace and holiness. South African a cappella song is a calming mantra, especially when compared to the European tradition of the same format. This is humid, sensual music, even when addressing the divine (making me certain that these singers know something about true peace which most Westerners do not).
The group's motific singing is structured around soothing, hushed harmonies. This is best experienced when the group is singing in its native Zulu, but it's also very effective in English ("Because I Love," "Black is Beautiful," "Music Knows No Boundaries"). "Tribute" is a hip-hop hommage composed by leader Joseph Shabalala’s grandsons for their late grandmother, Nellie Shabalala — a brilliant bridge between cultures and ideas. Raise Your Spirit Higher is a brilliant refresher for this often neglected group. This is beautiful music.
For more information, visit Heads Up Records on the web.
This and all pieces published in December 2003 are dedicated to my late father, Norman L. Bailey (1915-2003).