Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala dies aged 78

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Ladysmith Black Mambazo to cut short United States tour after group’s founder dies

Pioneer … Joseph Shabalala is credited with taking Zulu traditional music to the world with Ladysmith Black Mambazo

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – Joseph Shabalala, the founder of multiple Grammy award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo has died at the age of 78.

The news was confirmed on Tuesday morning by the group’s manager, Xolani Majozi.

Majozi said Shabalala, who helped introduce the sound of traditional Zulu music to the world, was with his wife Thokozile Shabalala, during his last moments.

“Yes it’s true. Mr Shabalala passed on this morning. The group (Ladysmith Black Mambazo) is on tour in the United States, but they have been informed and are devastated because the group is family,” Majozi said.

Shabalala died in an unnamed hospital in Pretoria.

Born in 1941, Shabalala was the eldest of eight children living on a farm in Tugela, near the town of Ladysmith in South Africa.

He was forced to leave school at the age of 12 when his father died, working on the family farm and, later, in a local factory.

In his spare time, he would sing with friends in a local group called the Blacks.

He eventually became the leader and main composer for the choir, fusing indigenous Zulu songs and dances with South African isicathamiya, an a capella tradition that was frequently accompanied by a soft, shuffling style of dance.

They were re-christened Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a name that was significant on several levels: Ladysmith represented their hometown, Black referenced the black oxen that were the strongest on the farm, and Mambazo, from the Zulu word for axe, symbolized the group’s ability to cut down the competition.

A radio performance in 1970 led to a recording contract, and in 1973 they released Africa’s first gold-selling album, Amabutho.

They achieved global recognition after being recruited to sing on Paul Simon’s multi-million-selling Graceland album, most notably on Homeless, a song Shabalala co-wrote with Simon, based on the melody for a traditional Zulu wedding song.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo won five Grammy awards and featured heavily on Paul Simon’s Graceland album.

They also reached number 15 in the UK charts with a cover of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, for the 1995 Rugby World Cup.

Shabalala retired from active performance in 2014 shortly after performing at a memorial concert for Nelson Mandela. Online news

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