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Apropros of nothing, I would like to submit in this post three reasons why I really like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the African choral group:
1. When I hear them I think of Paul Simon’s Graceland, which pretty much introduced LBM to the world in 1986. Graceland is easily in my top 5 favorite albums of all time, and I have been an LBM fan since first hearing it.
2. When I hear them I also think of the countless times we watched one of my daughter’s favorite videos when she was two years old. It was a Sesame Street anniversary collection, and it ended with the entire cast singing the Sesame Street theme song as led by LBM. I enjoyed watching it (and singing it) as much as Ellie did.
3. Because LBM’s founder and lead singer was named Joseph Shabalala, who retired from the group in 2008. Shabalala may in fact be the best surname in the history of the universe. Furthermore, Joseph’s bass-singing brother — who was tragically killed in 1991 — was named Headman Shabalala, which is the best full name in the history of the universe. (For the record, the second-best full name in the history of the universe is Duns Scotus.)
4. Because even though I can’t understand the words in Zulu, their combination of heartfelt singing and simple, silly-looking choreography always make me happy.
5. Because, at the end of the Graceland song, “Homeless” — in which LBM are featured more prominently than Paul Simon — they sing these lyrics: Kuluman / Kulumani, Kulumani sizwe / Singenze njani / Baya jabula abasi thanda yo / Ho. Loosely translated, it means this: “We would like to announce to the entire nation that we are the best at singing in this style.”
I think this is brilliant. As personally horn-tooting as any rapper, yet somehow appropriate. Or as my friend Shuey said, “I found this awesome. A song about homeless people, strong winds destroying their homes, many dead, tonight it could be you, and so on…and at the end, they wrap it up with a very literal and humorously terse brag.”
And LBM is a Christian group. If Chris Tomlin or Michael W. Smith could find a way to work this kind of ending into their songs, I would enjoy K-LOVE a whole lot more.
Here are Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing at a live 1980s concert in Africa with Paul Simon. “Homeless” begins around the 4:00 minute mark, and Paul Simon sings the delicately braggy ending with them around 8:00 in. Enjoy.