Ladysmith Black Mambazo Live At The Depot, Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, 7 November 2006
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United States of Americaby Jase Luttrell
Posted: 11 December 2006

Many months ago, Mandy informed Jase about the South African group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. While looking at the concert schedule for Salt Lake City, he found that the group was headed there to perform, so he bought tickets and went to the show, keeping the review as a surprise for Mandy. What follows is the review of that concert from the perspective of someone living in the States. Jase exhausted his entire repertoire of adjectives for this review.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo live in Salt Lake CityI don't believe I've been more excited and apprehensive about a concert before seeing Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I was excited because I had heard great things about this group from Mandy, but apprehensive about the idea of seeing eight men simply standing and singing. I wasn't too sure this concert would be very entertaining or that the group would put on a good show. Of course, I was wrong. The concert reached the pinnacle of amazing. What I didn't know beforehand is that the group has been together for 45 years, in one form or another. After this many years of performing, it comes as no surprise that a group can put any other musician or band to shame.

My friend and I weren't entirely sure if the concert would be very busy and, having never been to The Depot, we weren't sure what the venue would be like. As a result we arrived about half an hour before the doors opened. We immediately went inside to avoid the cold weather, and saw a small line forming in front of a velvet rope. We were then instructed that this was a line for members of the private club.

A curious cultural phenomenon that brings about a lot of contention in Salt Lake City is the handling of bars and clubs. In the entire state of Utah, all bars and clubs are considered private. Any patron has to purchase either a one-year or a temporary membership to a bar or club. Once they possess a membership, they may or may not have to pay a cover fee, depending on the bar or club. In the case of The Depot, I unknowingly purchased a temporary membership to the bar when I bought the concert tickets. Since I only possessed a temporary membership, my friend and I weren't allowed to wait inside the building; instead we were led to a small line outside on the north side of the building, where we had to wait for approximately half an hour before being let in. Thankfully, it wasn't too cold outside.

Once the doors opened we laboriously hiked the several flights of stairs before we reached the stage. Immediately, we noticed there was a balcony (which we didn't have access to, and I presume was reserved for the patrons who had a membership) and numerous tables covered in an inelegant white tablecloth. We quickly realised that this setup was a "first come, first serve" arrangement, so we bolted over to a table on stage right and took our seats. While we waited for the concert to begin, cocktail servers milled about the large room to take drink orders. Other patrons went to the back of the room to the bar, which has been beautifully designed, to order their beer and spirits. Curiously, only one server asked if we cared for a drink, and she (or any other server) never returned. It's a good thing we didn't place an order.

At eight o'clock the stage lights dimmed and the audience began clapping. With no opening act (who could effectively open for a South African a cappella band in Salt Lake?), Ladysmith Black Mambazo assembled on the large, theatrical stage and proceeded to amaze and confound the slightly intoxicated crowd. They opened with "Awu Wemadoda", from the No Boundaries album. They performed this song slightly slower than the recording, and the "awu wemadoda" lyrics were not as forceful as the recording. Instead, they softened the chorus, giving this up-tempo song a more flowing feel. As an opening song, I was amazed to hear the timbre of the eight voices intermingle in person. The recording, while great, pales in comparison to the live version of this song.

"Phalamende" followed "Awu Wemadoda". I do not remember this song as clearly as I would prefer, probably because I was busy picking my jaw up from off the floor.

ext, the group performed "Hello My Baby", which the members sang in a deep register as on the recording. The tremolo of lead singer Joseph Shabalala's voice was very distinctive and floated beautifully over the other singer's voices. The words were difficult to understand because of the isicathamiya singing style and the unfamiliar accent. This was a playful song, complimented by loud kissing noises made by all the singers. These lip smacks elicited some chuckles from the audience and the members of the group smiled more as the audience warmed up to their performance.

After this song one of the members of the group thanked the audience for coming to the show, while the other members took this opportunity to have a drink of water. Once the members reassembled, they performed "Woqaqa", another song in their native language.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo live in Salt Lake CityThe stirring and emotionally charged "Long Walk To Freedom" followed "Woqaqa", and Joseph Shabalala introduced the song by speaking of the tribulations of apartheid. He then congratulated South Africa's democratic freedom, and the audience responded with roaring applause. Again, the group performed this song at a slower tempo than the recording on the album Long Walk To Freedom. Furthermore, the "good boy, carry on" lyrics flowed as a gentle river filled with emotion and sincerity. The percussive clicks and trills were also extremely salient in this song, and at this moment in the performance the members of the group had opened up to the audience, and could be seen shaking their hips, dancing, and smiling more.

Before performing "Nginethemba" the band announced that there was "a very friendly man in the back selling CDs and such things", and the audience members were encouraged to meet him and say hello. After performing "Nginethemba", Joseph Shabalala announced they would take a 20-minute intermission so the audience could mingle with the merchandise sales representative.

Twenty-five minutes later, the stage lights dimmed, the audience cheered loudly, and the group took the stage for the last half of the exquisite performance. For the second set, the group began with the song "How Long", from the albums Long Walk To Freedom and Shaka Zulu. The members performed the extended version of the song found on Long Walk To Freedom, and their voices melted together seamlessly. For the second set, the group members appeared to have come out of their cocoons, and were visibly enjoying their performance as much as the audience.

The second song the group performed was the bouncy "Nomathemba". Without any percussion, aside from the clicks and trills, the group somehow managed to keep its performance so upbeat that several people in the audience tapped their toes and nodded their heads.

My favourite moment from the performance was introduced as a song for all of the many hungry boys and girls who were homeless during the apartheid era. The passion and conviction in Joseph Shabalala's voice affirmed the sincerity and seriousness of this painful issue. As the opening chords of the legato "Homeless" sounded, I fumbled to grab my camera in the hopes of recording a short video of the song. They performed this song slower than any of the recorded versions from Long Walk To Freedom and No Boundaries, but I believe this was a deliberate and ultimately affective choice. When Joseph Shabalala jumped and stamped the stage floor, the final resounding notes escaped the singer's mouths, left to echo through the halls of The Depot. Clearly, the effect was breathtaking, beautiful, and memorable.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo live in Salt Lake CityThe fluid "Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain" can only be described as gentle and touching. The eight voices convened together perfectly, creating a warm sound that filled the mansion-sized venue. This song's delicacy was followed by the bright and merry "Phansi", which was introduced as a song about the diamond miners in South Africa. The dangers of the mines were briefly explained to the audience and the song was introduced as a prayer for all of the hardworking miners who leave their homes and villages.

Normally, I think of a prayer as being a slow, melodic, and somewhat simple song that is uninteresting and repetitive. "Phansi" was nothing remotely similar to my stereotypical idea of a prayer. The song was fast paced, animated, and downright jaunty. Towards the end of the song, the group sang the same Zulu chant repeatedly. Each member then took his turn dancing in front of the crowd. In isicathamiya music, the dances are very quick and difficult. Each member performed a variety of hand and foot combinations reminiscent of capoeira and break-dancing, but far more impressive than either of these dance styles. In addition to the quick footing, it is customary for the dancers to be as quiet as possible, adding to the difficulty of the dance. Furthermore, dancers are expected to kick their legs up as high as they can, often well above their heads.

Each member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo danced while the others sang, and each dance was different and more impressive than the last. One member leaped into the air and kicked out both feet, then successfully landed the jump. Finally, Joseph Shabalala performed his dance. Surprisingly, the 65-year-old man could kick as high as his young sons. After each member had performed his dance, the members walked off the stage one by one, until only Shabalala remained. He kept singing the same chant, and then abruptly ended the chant to wish the audience a good night.

Immediately after he exited the stage, every able-bodied person in The Depot rose to his or her feet, applauding and shouting wildly for an encore. After everyone in the audience nearly lost the use of their hands from clapping so hard, one member of the group came back on stage. He frantically started bowing and telling the audience that we were too kind. Then, another member came out on the stage, saying that the audience wasn't clapping for the first singer, they were clapping for him. A short popularity battle ensued, and then the two singers called the rest of the group back out onto the stage.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo perform the finale in Salt Lake CityThe members of the group once again thanked everyone in the audience and then announced that they would be singing a song from their CD Long Walk To Freedom. The encore song was their rendition of "Amazing Grace". Immediately, the audience fell to a hush, and the group performed this wildly popular and poignant song. At first, I didn't recognise the song and thought they were performing it in their native language. Eventually, the song became recognisable to me, as the group sang the most popular and most performed verse of the song. During their rendition of this song, I distinctly remember thinking that the combination of their voices, in perfect pitch, harmony, tempo, and timbre, resounded throughout the auditorium of The Depot like the strings of a cello as the bow glides across it. I have never been more moved by a group of musicians' amazing abilities to captivate an audience, and to provide such a rich, enveloping performance.

When they finished performing "Amazing Grace", the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo expressed their gratitude. One member of the audience ran up to the stage carrying a South African flag, running back and forth in front of the stage with the flag as a banner. Then the group left the stage to an enthusiastic standing ovation. After the applause ended, my friend and I silently grabbed our coats, and followed the wordless crowd out of the building. Once we stepped outside into the crisp autumn air, we turned to each other and said "wow", before falling into an amazed and stunned silence. It is safe to say that everyone in the audience shared a similar silent experience; Ladysmith Black Mambazo's performance in Salt Lake City exceeded my expectations, and I think everyone in the audience felt the same way.


Set List
Awu Wemadoda
Phalamende
Hello My Baby
Woqaqa
Long Walk To Freedom
Nginethemba
How Long
Nomathemba
Homeless
Rain, Rain, Beautiful Rain
Phansi

Encore
Amazing Grace


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