Sacred Sunday: “Izithembiso Zenkosi,” Ladysmith Black Mambazo

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In case you aren’t familiar with them, Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a ten-man acapella group from Durban, South Africa.  The name is a composite of three things: Ladysmith is the name of founder Joseph Shabalala’s hometown; Black refers to oxen; and Mambazo is the Zulu word for axe, which Shabalala chose to imply his group’s ability to “chop down” its singing rivals.  A well-chosen name, as the group has been singing for fifty years.

The group definitely sings about the Christian gospel, but Shabalala has said that he wants to make music that appeals across the religious spectrum.  “Without hearing the lyrics, this music gets into the blood, because it comes from the blood,” he says. “It evokes enthusiasm and excitement, regardless of what you follow spiritually.”  This makes me very happy.  This is my absolute favorite Ladysmith Black Mambazo song.  I love the rolling rhythm and the repetitive melody is very meditative while still being lively and uptempo.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo sounds like my childhood.  I grew up listening to my Mom’s cassette tapes, playing in one half of the basement while she refinished some antique piece of furniture in the other half.  Ladysmith Black Mambazo also sounds like springtime, and today is our last hit of warmth before the polar vortex closes in on us again.  Put this on and throw open all the windows.

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