I could be wrong but the first forms of music to ever hit my eardrum were The Soul Brothers, Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to learn I was conceived…er…I mean bought from the hospital to “Ilungelo lakho”. I opened my ears to the dilatory a capella alto/tenor/bass narrative serenades of the nine-piece (though the number varied) Ladysmith native all-male s’cathamiya group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Finding himself in Swaziland as a Zulu man, my father, I think, used such music with a strong Zulu essence to stay connected to his Zulu roots. A couple of Mambazo vinyls still survive in our living room.
Yes, as I grew older I discovered other forms of music – bubblegum, kwaito and later, hip hop – and my attention veered away from what my folks were playing at home. I grew up in a society that was trying really hard to be civilised and, with the shameless touting of popular music by mainstream media, it thus stigmatized and sneered at traditional music such as maskandi and is’cathamiya. So I drifted away from it. Hey, I wanted to be cool too plus I was too young to discern the mystical connection I had with such music. It wasn’t until in my late teens that I fell in love with this music once again, probably because, coupled with his black and white photographs, it was the only surviving memories I had of my late father. Okay, why am I telling you all this?
The Grammys. You probably still don’t get the connection huh. Before we go any further, let me tell you that this writer is not a fan of award shows in general. Not the SAMAs, not the Metros, not the BETs and not even the Grammys themselves. Award shows have failed me many a time. Or I just happen to fan non-award-winning music. Take the Grammys for instance especially the hip hop category which is what I’m familiar with. Nas, Tupac, Biggie and KRS-ONE, just to mention a few, have never won Grammy awards but Drake has. Okay, chill, I’m not a Drake-hater. But I know you get my point clearly. The Grammys have always had their own type of music that they celebrate and place on their pedestal. Where am I going with this? Kendrick Lamar. I saw a lot of hostile tweets on hip hop’s current golden boy’s walking away empty-handed from the award show while his contender, Macklemore bagged a couple. A lot of conclusions were drawn. One inevitable one was the race one. Sigh.
Yes, I read Macklemore’s admittance that he didn’t deserve the Best Album award. Kendrick did for his major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city. Most of us agree with that. But not the Grammy committee.
Okay, Kendrick Lamar fans, your boy didn’t win. But so what? I mean really, so what? It’s the Grammys after all. Bob Marley never won a Grammy. It’s an award show just like all award shows – your favourite artist is probably not going to win.
Among the hostile tweets and status updates, I stumbled onto one about the Ladysmith group winning yet another Grammy award. They took Best World Music Album for their 2013 Live: Singing for Peace Around the World album. Why isn’t anybody celebrating that? Any South Africans here? But then again, I can’t say I’m surprised.
The South African s’cathamiya group is not new to the Grammy business at all. Their first international release, the Paul Simon-produced Shaka Zulu won them their first Grammy for Best Folk recording in 1988 . Raise Your Spirit Higher and Ilembe went on to win the group two more Grammy awards in 2004 and 2009 respectively.
They’ve been touring the world and quietly selling out venues, a feat I doubt they can still achieve on home-turf because we are seemingly giving America our undivided attention and missing the great stuff our fellow Africans are doing. Actually, we don’t even think it’s great anyway, do we? I however won’t get into that argument. At least not today. Actually not ever. But I will say this: maybe instead of slandering the poor Seatle native for winning and mourning Kendrick’s loss (which means nothing anyway), we can just celebrate that a group from the humble beginnings of rural Kwazulu Natal represented our country at the Grammys we seem to revere this much. Is that too much to ask for? Especially since our president’s reading skills and Bafana Bafana’s disturbing incessant losses have left us with little to be proud of.
With a career spanning over fifty years and over fifty recordings, the group doesn’t seem to be planning to stop anytime soon. They are gearing to release another album this year (2014) which is a tribute to the group’s leader, Joseph Shabala’s wife, Nelile Shabalala who passed away in 2002. Aptly titled Always With us, the album will see the group merging their voices with the late Nelile’s songs that she did with her church choir before she passed away.
Images taken from http://www.mambazo.com