A Dream Came True!

Last night, Jen gave me her extra ticket to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo live in concert in Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University. It was literally one of the best things I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. It was a childhood dream come true!

When my parents bought the Paul Simon album Graceland in 1986, I commandeered the record player for months. I wanted it in my ears every waking moment, and my dad bought me the cassette so I could listen to it in my Sony Walkman even when we weren’t at home. I played it over and over and over. My parents were so cool about it — they never made me take off the headphones, even in situations where it was really not appropriate to have them on (like visiting at the minister’s house), as long as I kept the music low enough that no one else could hear it. They didn’t even get annoyed when I sang along to it from the back of the minivan for the entire 7-hour drive to the beach that summer.

I’d never before heard anything quite like it, and I could not get enough. It introduced me to zydeco and African music. Ladysmith Black Mambazo were featured on many tracks and sang a couple of their own, and those were my favorite parts of the album. Their song Homeless was one of the first songs that made me feel deep empathy for others as a child, and that made me understand we are all the same people. The lyrics are almost all in Zulu, but the English words are:

Our father, please help us
We sleep in the cliff
It is very cold in the cliff
We are homeless
Homeless
The moonlight sleeping
on a midnight lake
Strong wind destroy our home
Many dead
Tonight it could be you

Ever since then, the more I’ve heard of their music, and the more I’ve learned about them as people, the more I’ve loved them. Their mission is to educate the world about traditional South African culture and promote peace, love, and harmony. I never thought I’d get a chance to see them perform live, and they even did two of my favorites — Homeless and Shosholoza. They actually do radiate peace, love, and harmony. They are always smiling, joking around, and seem to have so much fun on stage. In between songs they did little comedy routines in thick South African accents, and also explained a little bit about some of the traditions of the songs. They incorporate some African dance into their performance, and it’s pretty impressive that Joseph Shabalala, the founder of the group who is now about 70 years old, can still do a mean high kick. At one point they brought a whole bunch of people of all ages up on stage to dance with them, doing a routine that they taught on the spur of the moment. You would not believe how happy those people looked!

One thing that’s interesting about their music is that it’s not all traditional. They have written a lot of it, but it is based on the sound of traditional Zulu music. Also, I finally learned about the meaning of their name, which I can’t believe I never researched before. Ladysmith is the name of the town they are from originally. Black refers to the black oxen, which are considered to be the strongest of the herd. And Mambazo is the Zulu word for axe, because of their ability to chop down all their competition.

Actually one of the best nights of my life. If you ever get a chance to see them, GO! You will not be disappointed.

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