Eric Simonson's Oscar-nominated documentary is both a valentine to South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and an examination of their music's role within the anti-apartheid movement.
In 1964, Joseph Shabalala felt compelled to perpetuate the multi-part music of his tribesmen. Based on Zulu harmonies, the evolving sound and the accompanying performance style called isicathamiya ("on tip toe") in which men push their voices into their upper ranges had their roots in native ceremonies. Some 100 years ago earlier, "tip toe" developed when many rural villagers moved to urban areas in search of work; with their wives and girlfriends left behind, the men made up for the absence of real female voices, an integral part of traditional songs, by mimicking them. As Shabalala explains, the century-old music is hybrid form whose influences include traditional Zulu melodies, gramophone recordings and even the influence of touring American vaudeville companies. The plaintive result originated as a
coping mechanism for homesick workers, but Shabalala’s group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, refocused its resonance: It became an implicit rebuke to South Africa's white ruling class; Shabalala’s own brother died at the hands of Afrikaner police. As Shabalala and his performers sang their way to prominence with their sweet-sounding, popular protest music, Ladysmith Black Mambazo caught the ear of Paul Simon. They joined forces with Simon in 1985 and embarked on a world tour; the CD Graceland brought them international stardom. Despite their renown, Shabalala’s troupe still performs out of competition in weekly South African contests featuring such groups as the New High Singers.
This inspirational documentary awash in glorious sounds provides both pure listening pleasure and a lesson in the ability of music can speak as the voice of a people.
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- Released: 2000
- Rating: NR
- Review: Eric Simonson's Oscar-nominated documentary is both a valentine to South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo and an examination of their music's role within the anti-apartheid movement. In 1964, Joseph Shabalala felt compelled to perpetuate the… (more)