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Music Review: Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Songs From a Zulu Farm

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I still remember going to a Ladysmith Black Mambazo concert when I was in college. Even though I was a little skeptical ahead of time, I quickly fell under the spell of the Grammy Award-winning a cappella group. The language difference was a non-issue as I listened to the beautiful harmonies of the nine-man group.

Now I am excited to share the music of Ladysmith Black Mambazo with my children. Their new album, Songs From A Zulu Farm (released on February 1, 2011) is a great introduction for young and old alike.

My first introduction to the group was when they sang with Paul Simon.  In this new album, the singers reflect back in a quieter way to their past, adding new lyrics to songs from their youth and setting childhood stories to music.

My kids especially enjoy “Old MacDonald…Zulu Style.” Even if the chicken says, “pok-pok,” instead of, “cluck-cluck,” they recognize the tune enough to follow along with the song. They love learning to speak “animal” in a whole new way. 

The group draws on their childhood memories of life in the South African countryside, as they reinvent the traditional folk tunes that were sung to them. Most of the songs are sung in Zulu; there are only a few recognizable English words here and there. I appreciate that these are songs traditional to South Africa, particularly as I play them for my kids. I want them to be able to appreciate songs and music from other cultures.

While I love the rich harmonies and musical gifts of the nine-man group, to be honest, all the songs sound the same to me. I appreciate the “Old MacDonald” song just by nature of the fact that it stands out from the rest of the songs. 

For me, this is the kind of music that is good for playing in the background while something else is going on. I appreciate the music more when I’m only half-listening.

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