Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Carolina Theatre, Durham
Friday, Feb. 13
“Peace, love, harmony”: That was the mantra Joseph Shabalala, the elder statesmen of South African vocal troupe Ladysmith Black Mambazo, repeated throughout the group’s Friday night performance at Durham’s Carolina Theatre. Ladysmith has clung to such universal hope for five decades—through apartheid, a post-Graceland rise to fame, and a third Grammy win earlier in the week. Shabala and seven other singers (four of them his sons, including future Mambazo leader Thamsanqa) spent most of the night singing in Zulu, their native tongue, but smartly connected with the audience by expanding the show beyond its a cappella origins.
If the realm of live performance is all about connecting with and engaging the crowd, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has mastered more than just the isicathamiya and mbube vocal styles for which it’s famous. With no actual instruments to play, several members mimed air guitar at one point to demonstrate the rhythm their voices were keeping, while another fretted an invisible bass to visualize the melody. Never taking themselves too seriously, the younger Mambazo members employed playful bits of physical comedy. They synchronized high kicks in bright white shoes and eventually invited audience members onstage for a pseudo-dance-off. Despite the obvious language barrier, the African octet entertained thoroughly with its pair of 50-minute sets and a well-deserved encore.The sounds of their majestic voices should have been impressive enough. Good for the crowd, they didn't have to be.