The term “cothoza mfana,” or “tip-toe guys,” came about as they tried not to disturb the work camp security, essentially creating a style of dance and song that would stick around for years to come.
This is the history of Isicathamiya, the traditional music of the Grammy award-winning a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who will grace the stage for one night only at the Grand Sierra Resort on Sunday.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, founded in 1969 in Zululand, South Africa, is best known for its philanthropic and active push for peace not just in their country but around the world.
In their nearly 40 years together, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has appeared at Nelson Mandela’s awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, collaborated with Paul McCartney on “Hey Jude” and performed for Pope John Paul II, to name a few highlights, proving a force all its own that founding member Albert Mazibuko thinks will last for years to come.
“We’re going to be around maybe for forever,” the tenor told the Sparks Tribune, with a laugh. “It’s healing music. When you listen to it, there’s something that it does in your blood system. It makes people feel alive.”
The group began life as a meager family effort, started by Joseph Shabalala who recruited brothers, cousins and close friends.
After winning nearly every competition they entered, Ladysmith was born, named for their hometown (Ladysmith), Black (referring to the black oxen, the strongest animal on the farm) and Mambazo (a Zulu word that means “ax” as they could chop down their competition with ease).
Ladysmith hit the air waves in a 1970 broadcast, which launched the first record of 40 to come, eventually selling seven million records to date.
The reason for the success?
“It brings so much life into people’s lives,” Mazibuko said. “Even myself. When I’m feeling down, as soon as I get into our rehearsal, I’ll be a new person every time. I leave with a new energy.”
Describing their performances as originating from traditional Zulu dances, Mazibuko mentioned it combines wedding songs, making it sound like gospel music.
Most dances, which the nine group members choreograph themselves, involve a lot of stomping, heavy clapping and bounding to make for an upbeat, energy-packed rhythm to sing to and watch.
“First of all, our mission is to encourage people to lead positive lives,” Mazibuko said in regards to the lively tempo of their songs. “We hope and wish that the world that we live in would be a peaceful world.”
Much of the material is about political ambitions, urging world leaders to strive for peace as well as simply encouraging listeners to not be afraid of dreaming, Mazibuko said — all undertones that arguably appeal to universal audiences.
“We want to encourage people to be the best they can,” Mazibuko said.
Tickets are $25 and $45 and can be purchased at the Grand Sierra box office or online at www.grandsierraresort.com. Show starts at 8 p.m.
“And be prepared to bring your sneakers,” Mazibuko said. “You’ll be dancing.”