Interview with Albert Mazibuko from Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Posted on 01/27/2020
One of the founding members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Albert Mazibuko, talks with All Access about his long history with the South African vocal group, working with Paul Simon, his passion for music, and so much more! Ladysmith Black Mambazo comes to State Theatre on Tue, February 4 at 8pm.
Read the transcribed interview below
with Kelly from All Access and special guest Albert Mazibuko from Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Kelly: And, welcome to All Access with State Theatre New Jersey. I am your host, Kelly Blithe, and this is the show that takes you behind the scenes and behind the curtain of the legendary State Theatre in downtown New Brunswick. Now here at the State Theatre, we have quite a few artists we like to bring back to the State Theatre. I would like to say back by popular demand, and one of the artists coming up on February 4th, is Ladysmith Black Mambazo. We are super psyched to have South Africa’s vocal group return to the State Theatre and with us today is one of the founding members of Ladysmith, Albert Mazibuko. Welcome Albert!
Albert: Thank you very much! It’s nice to be here. It’s so beautiful to be back at the State Theatre!
Kelly: Awesome! So, Albert we are so excited to present Ladysmith. You guys have been around for over 50 years, and you are one of the founding members. Tell me, this must be some crazy life that you’re leading right? This sounds so exciting to be part of Ladysmith.
Albert: You know, it is a very exciting life. And I think it's been everything for me. Because to be a part of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, it has been a dream for me when I was a little boy when I saw Joseph in 1960 with his group. And now I am a part of it, so it’s so exciting and I’m so grateful.
Kelly: And so, for those who have never seen Ladysmith perform, tell me about your performances. You guys sing, you do some dancing, tell us, if they never seen a Ladysmith Black Mambazo performance before, what they can expect at the show.
Albert: You know, when you get into the theater, you will see these microphones lining up on stage. No other things, just the microphones. It’s eight at the back and then it’s one in front. So, here we come. We enter the stage with our colorful shirts, some black pants, white shoes, red socks, and then we start the song. And then about a couple seconds in the song, we start dancing using our hands and our feet. So, our singing is about, we sing, we dance, so we enjoy, everybody is going to enjoy. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s upbeat and joyful too.
Kelly: Tell us about the music. How do you guys decide what you are going to sing? I’m assuming that some songs, you’ve been singing for a while now, and sometimes you bring in some new songs. Tell us about how you select what you are going to sing during that performance.
Albert: You know, this is kind of a challenge, but we manage to choose the songs because one of the things that we consider the most is that we have some people's favorite songs that we cannot leave behind. But we also have new songs that we want to perform, and so we want to share those moments with the audience. So that’s where we have to select the songs that we think will be well-received. So, what we do is that we do our best to select all the songs that we think the message is going to be complete. Because the message in our singing is about peace, love, and harmony. So, we want to include all those songs with that kind of message and include that kind of inspiration to us and to our audience.
Kelly: Very nice. And you guys have more than 50 albums that you have released. That’s quite a catalog, I mean you guys must always be in the studio, that’s super exciting.
Albert: It is exciting! You know, in fact I lost count because when I last counted our albums, I think it’s been almost 70 or 60 plus, almost 70 I think. So, if you have that many songs, when you have to perform, you have to decide which songs you want to perform and which ones you leave behind. But we always choose the songs that is going to be joyful.
Kelly: Very Nice. I mean, yeah you have quite a catalog of songs, so narrowing it down definitely sounds like it’s quite a process. So, Albert tell me, when you were a little boy, did you ever think that this would be your life? That you would grow up to become a part of such an amazing vocal group and tour the world?
Albert: Never in a million years. You know, when I was a little boy, the love of music, it was a part of me. I love singing but I never thought I would even be making a living by music. Because it was something that was out of the question in our country. No one ever thought that a couple of groups can make it and live without going to any work without singing. So, it's amazing, it’s something that I never dreamt of even now. When I wake up in the middle of the night, I ask myself, “Where am I? Oh, I’m in the hotel. What am I doing here? Okay I came here to sing. Just sing!” [Laughs] So, it's always, you know, exciting. It’s a dream that I don’t want to be waken up from. It’s a beautiful dream.
Kelly: Yeah. I read somewhere that someone asked you if would ever retire or leave the group and I think you were basically saying “Why would you do that?” [Laughs]
Albert: [Laughs] Yes, why would I do that? It’s enjoyable, I love it, it's beautiful and it’s something I enjoy the most.
Kelly: Nice. So, when you first became part of the group, you said that you saw Joseph perform, and is Joseph your cousin, is that what I hear?
Albert: Yes, he is my cousin, we are second cousins. So, when I saw him in 1960, that time I had my own group. I formed my own group when I was nine years old.
Albert: In my group, the youngest was seven years old and then the oldest was 14 years old. We are singing right in the farm, singing in the weddings, and some competition that takes place there and then. We were the youngest in the area as a group, but I consider myself and my group that we are the best because sometimes we won the competitions that was taking place back then. In 1960, when I saw Joseph with his group, he sang so beautiful because that time he left the farm the year before and then he went to the big city and so when he came back, he came with his group. It was Christmas day, so it’s always a celebration when it's Christmas. So, he came with his group and they sound so beautiful and then I said to my group, “Nope, I’m not going to sing tonight,” and they asked, “Why?” and I said, “I saw someone who sings better than us, so for me it’s better to go and join him.”
Kelly: Nice. Nice. And it’s kind of like the rest is history, right? You joined the group and here you are.
Albert: You know, and after many years after that and then so, Joseph came to me with his brother, I was with my brother and one of my cousins in 1969. So, I said, “Brothers, I’m here to ask you to help me achieve the dream that I had about this kind of music.” And I was so happy you know; I was so happy that my time has come. And so, we started that day to make new songs and a new way of singing and I was so excited and I’m still excited even now.
Kelly: Very Exciting. So, some years later, you guys got to work with Paul Simon on his Graceland album, and I know that was kind of a big breakthrough for you guys. Tell us about that experience.
Albert: You know that was something because when we have heard that there was a guy from America who was looking for Ladysmith Black Mambazo and then so when our leader, Joseph Shabalala went to see him because he was at Johannesburg at the time. And then we were so concerned because his music was different then our music because we knew his music because it was played on the radio, especially the song, “A Bridge Over Troubled Water,” it was famous in those years. And so, when Joseph came back and we saw him, he said, “Yeah he said he wants to do something with us,” and I said, “Wow.” And then after three weeks, we had received a package from the post office which was the demo cassette and a piece of paper. In this piece of paper, he wrote, “Dear Joseph, don’t change these because I took it from one of your recordings.” Okay, so he was singing by himself playing a piano, “Homeless, homeless, moonlight sleeping on a midnight lake.” He was saying some other things that we couldn’t make out or what it was but when we listened carefully [we said] “OH, there is a song that we sang. Is that what he meant when he said, “don’t change this?” So, we work around the song and after three weeks, and we were called to go to England to record with him. So, we recorded the song, “Homeless,” and then after that, everything else is history. After two years after that, we did a world tour and it was amazing.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah, and I know that’s kind of where I was introduced to you guys, and I mean the world was introduced to you guys and it had to be a very exciting time. I know a lot of people remember that very fondly and continue to remember that time and obviously that’s a big part of the Ladysmith history in your group. We are talking with Albert Mazibuko with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, coming to the State Theatre February 4th. You can get your tickets at STNJ.org. So, Albert, obviously this is a very family friendly show, and do you see that a lot where kids, and grandparents, and parents, and grandkids all get together and really have just a joyous evening of music?
Albert: Yes, yeah you know we amazingly, we used to see three-year old's and then they don’t sit down when they sing, they always stand up and dance.
Albert: And then we also saw some 90 something or a 100-year old people, so we are so blessed that in our concerts we see all ages. And it reminds me of back at home because when we grew up, we used to sit around with our grandmothers and grandfathers, that’s the way we learn everything and that’s the way the young kids learn. It makes me very happy that our music is enjoyed by all ages.
Kelly: Yeah. Good stuff, good stuff. Ladysmith Black Mambazo coming to the State Theatre February 4. Make sure to get your tickets at STNJ.org. Albert, thank you so much for being on All Access, and we look forward to seeing you February 4th!
Albert: Thank you very much! And you are very welcome! We are looking so forward to be there, and we are coming!