Joseph Shabalala: A great tree has fallen but the whole forest has heard it
This was one of the tributes paid to South African music titan Joseph Shabalala, who died on Tuesday.
The founder of legendary multiple Grammy-winning Isicathamiya group Ladysmith Black Mambazo died at Eugene Marais Hospital in Pretoria after a long illness. He was 78.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo manager Xolani Majozi said: “This loss comes as a big blow to not just the group, but also the family, especially as the group is currently performing in America.”
The group cut their tour short when the news broke, and the family were making funeral arrangements, he said.
Albert Mazibuko, 71, who has been with the group for 51 years, said the group was saddened by Shabalala’s death. “We were coming from San Diego and making our way to Los Angeles when we heard the news,” he said.
Political parties and entertainment heavyweights offered their condolences to the Shabalala family.
IFP national spokesperson Mkhuleko Hlengwa said the role Shabalala played in advancing South African music during the country’s darkest period would be remembered.
“A great tree has fallen Mshengu rose from difficulty to the highest pinnacles of international recognition, inspiring every South African that with discipline, focus and commitment, nothing is impossible. The greatest legacy any South African can leave behind is that of the ability to inspire others,” he said.
DA KZN leader Zwakele Mncwango said the party paid tribute to “this legend who brought the world’s attention to South Africa through his authentic music”.
Film producer Anant Singh said he had had the privilege of working with Shabalala on the music for his film Cry The Beloved Country, and they had remained firm friends over the years.
He said Shabalala helped to take isicathamiya to the world and became a global icon.
Born in Ladysmith to Mluwane and Nomandla Elina Shabalala, he was the eldest of seven siblings and grew up on a farm called Tugela. After his father died, he went to search for work in Durban where his talent for singing and playing the guitar was discovered. In 1960 he formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The group’s name had various references: “Ladysmith” came from the town of Ladysmith where he was born and grew up; “Black” referenced black oxen and his rural upbringing; and “Mambazo”, an axe, was how the group cut down all opposition in competitions.
In 1986 he did a collaboration with Paul Simon for his Graceland album and they created the famous Homeless song which brought Ladysmith Black Mambazo world renown. The following year, the group got their first Grammy award for their album Shaka Zulu.
Mshengu retired from performing in 2014.
Additional Reporting Winston Mfeka and Mphathi Nxumalo