Energy of Ladysmith Black Mambazo draws in crowd

Nine voices: one sumptuous, sensuous sound. Ladysmith Black Mambazo made mighty harmonies and danced
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Nine voices: one sumptuous, sensuous sound.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo made mighty harmonies and danced happy dances to compelling effect, as usual, at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday.

Founder Joseph Shabalala started most songs in his piercing tenor, then, like the low strings of an orchestra, the basses and cellos, his group glided in behind him, forming chords, answering his leads, adding clicks and whoops, commenting on the music with dance steps and gestures as much as their voices. No matter how rich and strong the linked voices sound behind and under him, Shabalala’s voice cut through and cut deep.

They sang of strength and struggle, of love and liberty — a fervent freedom song giving way in the first set to a happy love song that echoed (or prefigured) the emotional syntax of sweet soul music. One was all raised-fist indignation at its start and victory-parade triumph at the end, celebrating the liberation from apartheid to free elections of their South African homeland. The other, one of few sung in English rather than Zulu, layered confident entreaties and tender endearments until happy, high-kicking dance-steps grabbed away the performers’ attention and the chant faded, only to coalesce and gather strength as they danced back to their line of mic stands.

The ideals of peace, love and harmony on which Joseph Shabalala founded the group 47 years ago have remained its spiritual center as his sons have replaced his brothers, and their harmonies remained amazingly rich. He said the generation of his sons is the future of his music, as the Neville Brothers have found with their offspring. Shabalala turned the mic over to his youngest son for “Let’s Do It,” spiced by high kicks.

After the break, another of Shabalala’s four sons in the group emerged alone to lead the crowd in a sing-along challenge that he promised his group would accept. He taught everyone the words and proclaimed the sold-out crowd as winners, even as the rest of Ladysmith Black Mambazo eagerly burst onto the stage and competed at the top of their powerful voices.

The second set included both their most soft-spoken material — “Beautiful Rain” and “Homeless,” the latter co-written by Paul Simon and Joseph Shabalala and included in Simon’s “Graceland,” which made the group international stars — and their most boisterous audience participation number. In “Vela Nsizwa” (Show Yourself, Young Man), Shabalala invited fans onstage to dance. When the stage emptied of both Ladysmith Black Mambazo and their dancing fans, one member emerged to tease the cheering throng with the false news that the show was finished, finally summoning his group mates back onstage for a simple, anthemic song before Shabalala chanted farewell with the words, “Peace, love and harmony.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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