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Renowned South African A Capella Group to Perform

February 10, 2014

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a Grammy-award-winning singing troupe, brings its blend of vocal harmonies to Merced as part of Arts UC Merced Presents spring event lineup.I 

The group performs at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 6, at the Art Kamangar Center at the Merced Theatre. Tickets cost between $15 and $35 and can be purchased online.

“This is a can’t-miss event for the community. We’re very lucky that they were able to fit us in during their whirlwind U.S. tour, especially after winning the 2014 Grammy for best world music album,” said Gail Benedict, director of Arts UC Merced Presents. “They will be met by a big, enthusiastic crowd. It will be an unforgettable evening for all.”

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s career spans 50 years and the group’s work has garnered critical and popular acclaim. Members perform joyous and uplifting music that marries the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native South African traditions to the sounds and sentiments of Christian gospel.

UC Merced Professor Dunya Ramicova, also the artistic director of Arts UC Merced Presents, has included attendance of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo performance in the content of her course Theater and Social Responsibility. Ladysmith Black Mambazo exemplifies the role art plays in supporting the ideals of peace and equality, Ramicova said.

The group started a nationwide tour in January in support of its latest album, “Always With Us,” which honors Nellie Shabalala, the group’s matriarch and wife of founder Joseph Shabalala, by mixing the group’s vocals with tracks she recorded before her death in 2002.

“This album comes from deep inside my heart. It might be more personal than anything we have shared with the world before,” Shabalala said in a statement.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s previous album, “Live: Singing For Peace Around the World,” earned a Grammy last month.

Assembled in the early 1960s in South Africa by Shabalala, a farmboy turned factory worke, the group took its name from life in South Africa. Ladysmith is the name of Shabalala’s rural hometown; Black is a reference to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals; and Mambazo is the Zulu word for axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to “chop down” any singing rival who might challenge them.

The group’s collective voice is so tight and the members’ harmonies so polished, they were eventually banned from competitions – although they were welcome to participate strictly as entertainers, according to the band’s biography.

In the mid–1980s, singer-songwriter Paul Simon visited South Africa and incorporated Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his “Graceland” album — a landmark 1986 recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences.

A year later, Simon produced Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s first U.S. release, “Shaka Zulu,” which won a Grammy in 1988.

Since then, the group has won two more Grammy awards and has been nominated more than a dozen times.

In addition to working with Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with numerous artists from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge and many others.