Superstar Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala dies at 78 in South Africa

By Reuters and TimesLive


The founder of the South African multi-Grammy-Award-winning music group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, has died at age 78, the state broadcaster reported Tuesday.

The news spread throughout the networks throughout the day, underlying the superstardom status of one of South Africa’s most popular musicians of all times.

Shabalala died at a hospital in the capital, Pretoria, Tuesday morning, his family confirmed to local media.

He is world-known for his leadership of the choral group founded in 1964 that shot to world acclaim, collaborating with Paul Simon on the “Graceland” album and others. The haunting, often a cappella singing style known as isicathamiya helped to make the group one of South Africa’s most recognized performers on the world stage.

Posting on their Facebook page, Oliver Mtukudzi’s family said: “It’s with great sadness that we received news of the passing of Mr Joseph Shabalala who was a close friend of Dr Oliver Mtukudzi. We are deeply pained and words are of no help in expressing the sorrow we feel at this moment. No one can prepare you for the kind of pain we all feel when you have lost a loved one.

“To us he was a father, a brother and a dedicated fellow artist who gave his all in his work and embraced everyone he came into contact with him on and off the stage. He will forever be in our hearts and we will hold dear the fond memories we shared with Mr Joseph Shabalala,” said the tribute, which was posted on Tuku Musik Official.

The Grammy Award-winning group provided back-up harmonies to Simon’s blockbuster 1986 Graceland album, introducing their African indigenous music to a global audience with the song “Homeless”.

Over their long career they also worked with musicians Stevie Wonder and Dolly Parton, among others.

The South African government in a tweet extended its condolences. The death was announced as the country prepared to mark 30 years since the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, which led to the end of the country’s brutal system of racial oppression known as apartheid.

Born in 1941 in the town of Ladysmith in the country’s KwaZulu-Natal region, Shabalala first found fame after he was spotted by the well-known group, the Durban Choir.

Shabalala founded the prolific group in the small town of Ladysmith along the east coast of South Africa in the 1960s, at the height of white minority apartheid rule.

According to the group’s website, the “Black” in their name was a reference to strong oxen and Shabalala’s early life on a farm, while the word “Mambazo” is the Zulu word for a chopping axe, a symbol of the group’s vocal power.

Shabalala retired from Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 2014 but made occasional appearances at its events. He had been hospitalized several times since 2017.

“The group (Ladysmith Black Mambazo) is on tour in the U.S., but they have been informed and are devastated because the group is family,” manager Xolani Majozi told reporters.

Majozi said the group would cut its trip short and return to South Africa.


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