A brilliant South African warrior and king in the 18th century, the legendary Shaka Zulu was one of the great unifiers of his nation—on the other hand, he was also a strong-willed, vengeful man who was ultimately murdered by his own half-brothers, one of whom succeeded him to the throne. Now, in this tribute, Joseph Shabalala and his group present the all-original Ilembe. Don’t expect Ladysmith Black Mambazo to make music that reaches beyond their fans’ expectations— as you would predict, all these tunes are sung with no instrumental backing, and all carry a deep spiritual message expressed in English and their native Zulu. “Hlala Nami” stresses the importance of people coming together to do something positive for their communities, while the beautiful and spiritual “Let’s Do It” illuminates the dangers of politics, urging us to live honestly “for the future generation.” Also note the English-language “Prince of Peace,” which challenges listeners to go forth and simply pray and express love to God with “rhythm of harmony and balance.” Newbies who first came in contact with the group through Paul Simon’s Graceland or The Lion King soundtrack will be delighted with Mambazo’s incredible sonic and emotional range, though it’s still best to take them in live, where their exuberant talents can be fully appreciated.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo play B.B. King’s January 26, bbkingblues.com.