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Legendary Group Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder, Joseph Shabalala dies

South African singer-songwriter Joseph Shabalala, whose choir, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, brought Zulu music to listeners worldwide, died on Tuesday in a hospital in Pretoria. He was 78.

The cause was not immediately known, but his health had deteriorated after he had back surgery in 2013, said the group’s manager, Xolani Majozi, who announced the death.

The musician was best known as the founder and director of choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, which won five Grammy awards and featured heavily on Paul Simon's Graceland album.


Shabalala died in hospital in Pretoria, South Africa, the band's manager said.

"Yes it's true. Mr Shabalala passed on this morning," Xolani Majozi told the South Africa Times.

"The group is on tour in the US, but they have been informed and are devastated because the group is family."

In a statement, the band said: "We celebrate and honour your kind heart and your extraordinary life. Through your music and the millions who you came in contact with, you shall live forever."


The South African government paid tribute to the musician in a tweet, saying: "We would like to extend our condolences on the passing of Joseph Shabalala who was the founder of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

It added in Xhosa, "Ulale ngoxolo Tata ugqatso lwakho ulufezile." (Rest in peace, father, your race is complete.)


Joseph Shabalala — his full name was Bhekizizwe Joseph Siphatimandla Mxoveni Mshengu Bigboy Shabalala — was born on Aug. 28, 1941, near the town of Ladysmith, where his parents, Jonathan Mluwane Shabalala and Nomandla Elina Shabalala, worked on a white-owned farm.

"When I was a young boy I dreamt of becoming an educated person; maybe a teacher, doctor or something like that," he told South Africa's The Citizen in 2014.

However, he was forced to leave school at the age of 12 when his father died, working on the family farm and, later, in a local factory.

In his spare time, he would sing with friends in a local group called the Blacks.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a name that was significant on several levels: Ladysmith represented their hometown, Black referenced the black oxen that were the strongest on the farm, and Mambazo, from the Zulu word for axe, symbolized the group's ability to cut down the competition.

A radio performance in 1970 led to a recording contract, and in 1973 they released Africa's first gold-selling album, Amabutho.

They achieved global recognition after being recruited to sing on Paul Simon's multi-million-selling Graceland album, most notably on Homeless, a song Shabalala co-wrote with Simon, based on the melody for a traditional Zulu wedding song.


Shabalala retired from active performance in 2014 shortly after performing at a memorial concert for Nelson Mandela.

He continued to teach traditional choral music, while four of his sons (and one grandson) continued his legacy within Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The musician was with his wife Thokozile Shabalala, in his final moments, said Xolani Majozi.

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