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Classical melodies rock concert

By | October 5th 2011

By Kiundu Waweru

Music is indeed medicine of the soul. For this medicine, people in their hundreds thronged to the Impala Club grounds in Nairobi for last Sunday’s Safaricom Kenyan Classical Fusion Concert. On offer was Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a South African group that has made musical waves for half a century.

Continent’s best: It was the first time the famous Black Mambazo group came to Kenya and did not disappoint revellers at the Safaricom Kenyan Classical Fusion Concert last Sunday. The South African group has entertained for half a century, with their music rocking many. Photos: Martn Mukangu

The now annual concert attracted thousands of revellers; mostly families, who turned up in style. Blankets and lesos were spread on the dried grass in readiness for the smooth classical sounds. After a series of performances including soloists like Grace Awiti, Elizabeth Njoroge and Edward Elgar, Black Mambazo hit the stage to great enthusiasm from the audience.

Billed as the top selling South African artistes, the Black Mambazo performed songs from their array of over 60 albums. Their music is rhythmic, soulful and draws from the South African traditional roots and the very unique traditional Zulu dance.

The A Cappella group fuses gospel with traditional choral verse, Isicathamiya. They have entertained dignitaries such as former South African President Nelson Mandela, Queen Elizabeth and also at a concert for John Paul II in Rome.

The group has recorded with music greats like Paul Simon who holds the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton and Ben Harper as well as making a special appearance in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video.

At the Kenyan concert, for those who didn’t make it to the grounds, KTN beamed the event live.

Even luckier was the Kenyan boys Afro fusion group, the popular Sauti Sol who shared the stage with the great group in a performance that brought the roof, nay, sky down.

Besides the legendary group, the concert brought together more than 500 performers including the Nairobi Chamber Chorus, Combined Choir, Kenyatta University Choir and Safaricom Choir.

Hit the stage

Duncan Wambugu, the concert’s music director, conducted the groups.

As the sun set, Sauti Sol hit the stage, and everyone stood up to dance to their Coming Home song that won at the Kisima Awards, among other hit songs.

Then the Combined Choir filled the stage and performed Amazing Grace, which they dedicated to the late Prof Wangari Maathai.

The High School Choirs also performed a beautiful rendition of Daudi Kabaka’s Pole Musa.

Black Mambazo came back, to wild cheers, and joined by Sauti Sol, performed the song the group did with Paul Simon, Diamonds on the Soles of Her shoes.

This is Black Mambazo’s first visit to Kenya. To the amazement of many, their fame and track record does not make them feel special. In fact, you cannot pick them from the crowd — they are humble. Shabalala, who formed the group as a young farm boy, now 71, but with an evergreen voice, spoke about the group’s long and successful journey.

"I used to play the guitar. When I played, people would cry and ask me to stop."

But he didn’t want to let go of his beloved guitar, but in a dream, a voice said he can do music without the guitar.

"In the dream I would hear music, and see choirs, which I would be teaching."


Saying this, he would hum rhythmically, just as he did in his dreams. Actualising the vision, he formed the Ladysmith Black Mambazo and he would teach group members the music from his dreams.

The name of the group was derived from Ladysmith, which is Shabalala’s rural hometown and Black referring to an ox, a strong farm animal, while Mambazo is a Zulu word for an axe, meaning they ‘chop’ any competition.

People asked them to record "but we did not know what a record was, but we knew it would require many moneys (sic)," remembers Shabalala.

Then someone from Gallo Records approached them and offered to record them. The first compilation had four songs.

In 1986, Paul Simon visited South Africa and decided to feature Black Mambazo in his popular Graceland album.

After release, Graceland brought the attention of folk music to the world attention.

During the early years, Shabalala did not have family members in the group. He then felt "this is our music" and he taught relatives including brothers and cousins. His sons have also taken after the father and four of them are now in the group.

"They couldn’t resist music. They have grown with it; they hear me hum in my dreams."

They are still going strong.

Albert Mazibuko, a member since 1969, says:

"What we have people need it; we have to share."

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