We awoke this morning to the sad news that Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala has died. “Our Founder, our Teacher and most importantly, our Father left us today for eternal peace,” the South African vocal troupe said in a group statement. “We celebrate and honor your kind heart and your extraordinary life. Through your music and the millions who you came in contact with, you shall live forever.”
Shabalala started the group in the early Sixties, but they first entered the consciousness of most Americans in 1986 when they appeared with Paul Simon on his groundbreaking LP Graceland. He first heard of them when he saw them perform on a British television special. They appear on the Graceland tracks “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Homeless.” Both songs were co-written by Shabalala.
Simon took the group on tour all over world to promote Graceland, significantly increasing their public profile in the process. Here’s video of Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo performing “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” at a Zimbabwe show in 1987 that was released as The African Concert. The group played many of their own tunes that night, including “Lady of Kings” and “Hello My Baby.”
To return the favor, Simon produced their 1987 LP Shaka Zulu. In the years afterwards, Shabalala and the group worked with everyone from Dolly Parton to Natalie Merchant and Melissa Etheridge. Shabalala stopped touring with the group in 2014, but occasionally returned for special appearances. His son, Sibongiseni, now leads the act and they continue to tour heavily.