Joseph Shabalala, Founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo Has Passed Away at 78

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The African continent woke up today to the sad news of the passing of the legendary founder of multiple grammy-winning Ladysmith Black Mambazo and our father Joseph Shabalala.

Joseph Shabalala was born on 28 August 1941 and was well known for his unique bass vocals, has been battling with his health ever since his retirement from the group about five years ago. It is reported that the African musical legend spent his last moments with his wife beside him.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo is currently on tour in the United States and has been informed of the founder’s passing. “Yes, it’s true. Mr Shabalala passed on this morning. The group (Ladysmith Black Mambazo) is on tour in the US, but they have been informed and are devastated because the group is family,” Thokozile Shabalala said in a statement.

Manager of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Xolani Majozi described the passing of Shabalala as a great loss to the global music community.

“Bab’ Shabalala was a legend of this lifetime, and it will take time to raise a person of his calibre. His is the greatest loss to the entertainment industry and to the world. He raised the standard of the isicathamiya and took to international stages where it excelled. His was a global being,” he told Sowetan Live

South Africa’s President, Cyril Ramaphosa visited Shabalala at his home in April 2019 and at the time remarked that the musician was in good spirits despite his ailing health.

President Cyril Ramaphosa visited ailing Joseph Shabalala in April 2019

The South African government has expressed its condolenses to the Shabalala family in a tweet

Ladysmith is an ode to the town in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) where he was born and raised in and ‘Black Mambazo’ (black axe) was a way of instilling fear in contestants who came up against the group at isicathamiya competitions in the 1960s.

Shabalala transformed this group of choral singers from regional champions to a world-renowned brand that has won countless Grammy Awards.

Some of the group’s most notable achievements include:

  • the 1986 release of Homeless, a song by Paul Simon featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo that garnered international acclaim;
  • the group’s first Grammy Award for Shaka Zulu in 1987;
  • a total of five Grammy Awards in their collection and 16 nominations to-date;
  • four-time winners at the South African Music Awards (SAMA);
  • On Tiptoe: Gentle Steps to Freedom received nominations for Best Short Documentary Film at the Academy Awards and Emmy Awards; and
  • released more than 50 albums, many of which have reached gold and platinum status.

Shabalala’s health complications forced him to retire from the group in 2014. While he still held great influence in the group’s musical direction, the leadership duties were passed down to his son, Sibongiseni.

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