Joseph Shabalala described as an epitome of a true African identity

In a world faced with issues of globalization and a push to one cultural identity, late Ladysmith Black Mambazo leader and founder, Joseph Shabalala has been described as the epitome of a true African identity.

About 200 people, including dignitaries, family members and close friends, turned out at the Ellis Park Arena to pay tribute to Shabalala in the third and final memorial service before his funeral on Saturday.

The isicathamiya music world-acclaimed Shabalala died last week in Pretoria after a long illness.

When it was becoming more and more fashionable to follow the popular culture and assimilate to be accepted by the external world, Shabalala kept Ladysmith Black Mambazo purely African traditional. But that did not stop him from getting the recognition and respect he deserved from all over the world.

“Bab’uShabalala sang in Zulu. Isicathamiya was sung in isiZulu but Dolly Parton heard him. A white woman heard him,” says Thobela Dlamini, Deputy of the Rights Industry of South Africa (RiSA).

“I was in the Eastern Cape yesterday to meet some people who do music. I was so disappointed. There was this guy who had CDs and he records artists, possibly 20 of them. But not on a single day would I hear his music on Ukhozi FM (Zulu radio station) or anywhere else. His songs play on Umhlobo Wenene kuphela (Xhosa radio station). For how long must our people take themselves that low? Like if I sing in Xhosa I am not confined only to the Eastern Cape and if I sing Zulu then I must go back to KZN.”

“As musicians, we tend to forget to make our indigenous languages a priority in our compositions. It is very important that we must maintain our national heritage and identity. Through music, we speak to broken hearts … through music, we are healing the Mambazo family who are in great pain. As the Association of Independent Recording Companies of South Africa, we are very thankful and so to have had the opportunity to know a man who was so proud of his indigenous knowledge and language and made it fashionable,” says Vice President of Airco, Stanley Khoza.

Legendary musician, Yvonne Chaka Chaka lamented the tendency not to award local music icons at home until they are respected elsewhere.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo became known internationally after singing with Paul Simon on his 1986 album Graceland, and have won multiple awards, including five Grammy Awards, dedicating their fifth Grammy to the late former President Nelson Mandela.

In 1996, the group appeared on Dolly Parton’s album Treasures, collaborating with Parton on a cover of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train”. They joined Parton for an appearance on a November 1996 US network television special to perform the song.

Shabalala’s memorial service was abruptly ended when the Ellis Park area was hit by load shedding and the auditorium went completely dark.