As a huge fan of Alan Paton’s classic tale of South Africa, Cry, the Beloved Country, I was so excited to hear that the group that contributed most of the traditional African music to the movie adaptation, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was going to be in Marietta at the People’s Bank Theatre. And, to my great disbelief, the tickets were free. Surely I would have no chance to get in. But get in I did, and just in time, for the tickets were all taken shortly after.
With great anticipation, I found a seat relatively close to the front and waited impatiently. Finally, the lights dimmed, they were introduced, and suddenly we were all transported to the veldts of South Africa. The group, which sings acapella, created rhythms and harmonies that are simply not heard in western music. Despite the fact that I couldn’t understand most of what they sang (a few songs were partially in English, but not all), I could feel the emotional power that each song created. Beyond the glorious blending of the voices, many songs had an elaborate choreography that added to the impact. The energy and excitement was contagious, as witnessed by the fact that the audience was a sea of movement.
Early in the presentation, one of the singers explained that Ladysmith Black Mambazo was founded in 1960 by Joseph Shabalala (Interestingly, all three men who sang lead at different times in the concert were Professor Shabalala’s sons.) to, according to the liner notes of their Grammy Award-winning CD, Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Singing For Peace Around The World, “sing with a message of peace and love.” The group has won a total of four Grammies, including one for their collaboration with American singer/songwriter Paul Simon on the legendary album Graceland. Over the years they have partnered with giants from around the world, including Dolly Parton, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Lou Rawls, Natalie Merchant, Sarah McLachlan, and Michael Ball. These cooperative efforts have shown just how versatile the group is, but in my opinion, they are at their best when singing in their own in the haunting, ethereal, mesmerizing style that is, while completely different from western music, capable of drawing listeners in, in a way that makes us feel like we really can transcend cultural and language barriers and become one with the group. That maybe one day we really could finally realize that we are all one people and that love and unity can win out over hate and segregation. It’s my prayer that they are right.
To hear their music and see some of their moving performances, you’ll be happy to know they have their own channel on YouTube. You may also go to their website where you can learn more about their mission, find out where they are performing, listen to several of their songs, and buy all of their albums, going all the way back to when they were founded.
While this performance was a terrific start, it is definitely not the only highlight of the upcoming Spotlight Series at the People’s Bank Theatre. The next six months promises to be completely filled with events you simply do not want to miss. Up next on July 29 is bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and his band, Kentucky Thunder. Following that, on August 20, will be jazz greats The Bob Thompson Band. September is highlighted by hilariously deadpan comedian Steven Wright. October is a full month with four presentations, including the Tony Award winning play, Driving Miss Daisy and a concert by West Virginia legends Larry and Sandra Groce. The season wraps up in November with Vegas headliner Rick Michel in Forever Sinatra and December with a Christmas concert by Irish singer Cathie Ryan. For a complete lineup and information on purchasing tickets, go to peoplesbanktheatre.com and click on “2016 Spotlight Series” under the Events tab.