1987, Music

Shaka Zulu (1987) by Ladysmith Black Mombazo

By my rough count, this is Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s 23rd album but, according to much of the world, it’s their first, as it’s the first one produced by a famous (white) singer-songwriter and it’s the first one they released after appearing on his record (as part of Simon’s violation of the apartheid boycott, which is perhaps best left for another time).

It is hard for me to listen to this without thinking about how someone white gave permission for some black musicians to become popular and the various issues this turn of events raises. (This is not to say that Simon shouldn’t have tried to promote music he liked, nor to say that we should ignore this music specifically because Simon was involved, nor anything els like that. Only to say that I can’t help thinking about it, and how we, in North America in particular, don’t seem to be able to appreciate “foreign” things until they are packaged in nice, safe boxes for us. Then we go fucking nuts for it, as has happened with Bossa Nova, Cuban music and numerous other things.)

Trying to put aside all of that: this is a Capella folk music from the Zulus. If you have heard Graceland you have a very good idea of what it sounds like. (Just imagine the isolated vocals. Actually, come to think of it, I believe there is an a Cappella track on Graceland, right?)

I have no frame of reference for this music. I have not been exposed to their other records, or other groups making similar music. (Prior to the rise of the internet, I assume most of their music was not available in Canada on CD.) the appeal is the melodicism; compared to a lot of other “world” music that hasn’t yet mixed with Western music, this is extremely melodic and easy to listen to. That’s why these guys had such a good career. I have no idea if it’s representative o these genres are not.

What to do with it? I guess if you like a Capella, you are more apt to enjoy it. If not, it’s not going to change your life. (There’s nothing here that is going to transform your idea of how music can be made. Though it’s probably ancient, it almost sounds like it was invented by an easy listening lab.) But I given that this is the record that finally exposed the rest of the world to these genres, it’s hard to deny its importance.

8/10? I have no idea

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