Ladysmith Black Mambazo | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Ladysmith Black Mambazo 

Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


The South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been together for four decades, touring the world pretty much constantly since Paul Simon brought it to the international stage with Graceland in 1986. So you have to wonder why it took so long for someone to release an album like Live at the Royal Albert Hall (Shanachie), recorded last May--though the singers have put out more than two dozen records, this is the first real document of their onstage prowess. With their matching outfits and traditional high-stepping Zulu dancing, Ladysmith are almost as satisfying to see as they are to hear, but Albert Hall barely suffers from the lack of visuals. Though there are sudden breaks in the middle of several songs (the applause that erupts during "Ngamthola" probably means they've just busted a few of their signature moves) and the disc preserves the endearingly clumsy English patter between numbers (they almost always play it for laughs), the singing is as breathtaking note for note as on any of the studio recordings I've heard. It's also looser and more playful--in part because many of the songs have been opened up. "Phansi Emigodini (Deep Down in the Mines)," for instance, which Americans might've heard under the title "Nansi Imali" on the mid-80s compilation The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, stretches to thirteen and a half minutes from its former five. The group is ten voices strong--founder and lead singer Joseph Shabalala's keening tenor, plus one alto, a second tenor, and seven basses--and as long as Shabalala continues to train new singers to replace retiring members, there's a chance Ladysmith will be around for another 40 years. Thursday, February 24, 7:30 PM, Park West, 322 W. Armitage; 773-929-5959 or 312-559-1212. Saturday, 8 PM, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; 847-673-6300 or 312-559-1212.


Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Give $35/month →  
  Give $10/month →  
  Give  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  → 


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Michaelangelo Matos

  • How the USA fell for EDM, chapter one

    How the USA fell for EDM, chapter one

    In these excerpts from his lively and meticulous new book, The Underground Is Massive: How Electronic Dance Music Conquered America, longtime Reader contributor Michaelangelo Matos chronicles the three-decade ascent of EDM.
    • Apr 29, 2015
  • How Chicago house got its groove back

    How Chicago house got its groove back

    Chicago house music is the sound of global pop today. In the 90s, though, it was on life support—until a new wave of producers, including Cajmere and DJ Sneak, got the city doing the Percolator.
    • May 3, 2012
  • Mixed messages

    Mixed messages

    Fabric mixes from Craig Richards and Goldie and a DJ-Kicks mix from Motor City Drum Ensemble
    • Aug 11, 2011
  • More »

Popular Stories