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Music Review: Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends

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When I heard the very first notes of the very first song on Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends, which is “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” with Dolly Parton, chills went up and down my spine.  I knew I was in for something special.

Like many people, I first heard this South African a cappella group on Paul Simon’s CD Graceland. My favorite song from that CD (and one of my favorite songs ever), “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” is here in two versions: one with Paul Simon and one with Melissa Etheridge and Joe McBride. Among the other great musicians Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing with on this CD are Josh Grobin, Emmylou Harris, the late Lou Rawls, Sarah McLachlan, Taj Mahal,and Phoebe Snow, plus many others for a total of 30 amazing tracks.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

But no matter who is singing along, Ladysmith Black Mambazo make every single song special with their multilayered, uplifting, and enthralling harmonies. The positive power of their music soothes any troubled soul, provides a wonderful background to any activity, and is just a pure delight that enters the ears and goes straight to the soul.

Aside from “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” and “Dimaonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” other instant favorites from the first disc are “Homeless” with Paul Simon (there’s also a version on Disc 2 with Sarah McLachlan); “Chain Gang” with Lou Rawls; “Bread of Heaven (Wales Forever)” with the Michael Ball Male Voice Choir and Wales Squad Choir; and the transcendent “Amazing Grace/Nearer My God To Thee” with Emmylou Harris.

On Disc 2, standouts include “People Get Ready” with Phoebe Snow, “Paradise Road” with Jannie Moolman, “River of Dreams” with Bill Champlin, and “I’ll Take You There” with the Golden Gospel Singers.

But that is after just two listens. I know that every time I listen I’m going to find a new favorite, another song that touches me as only the very best music can.

This collection is part of the Listen 2 Africa Series from Razor and Tie, and Africa can have no better representative than Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

“For the past half-century, we have used our music to promote goodwill, cultural understanding and spiritual awakening throughout the world,” says Joseph Shabalala, founder of the group, in the official press release. He adds the following:

The fact that we’ve been able to perform and record with some of the most prominent musical voices representing so many different musical styles, so many different countries, so many different cultures, is proof of the unifying power of music. We’re very fortunate to have made so many good friends along the way, and we’re happy to have so many of these recordings with those friends gathered in a single collection.

We are the ones who are fortunate.

“The many tracks on Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends were recorded at many different times throughout our career, in many different places,” continues Shabalala. “The thread that ties them all together is the mutual respect and understanding among the musicians on each recording, and the desire to use music as a tool to spread that same respect and understanding to our audiences and around the world.”

This CD is a weapon for love, understanding and peace. Buy it when it is released in January 2012, or pre-order it now, and be enriched.

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About Rhetta Akamatsu

I am an author of non-fiction books and an online journalist. My books include Haunted Marietta, The Irish Slaves, T'ain't Nobody's Business If I Do: Blues Women Past and Present, and Sex Sells: Women in Photography and Film.