Ladysmith Black Mambazo in The National Concert Hall, Dublin on July 2nd 2015
“You guys are awesome”
That’s the opinion that one young boy shouts towards the stage, pretty much in agreement with the rest of the crowd as the guys from Ladysmith Black Mambazo bring their concert to a close with one last song.
Most famous for their turn on Paul Simon’s seminal ‘Graceland’, the South African group has been around for aeons, bringing the traditional sound and tales of the societal landscape in the country to the wider world since 1960, by way of 1986.
Homeless and Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Feet, two songs from the album, are aired out throughout the night. They’re maybe popular choices for the crowd but they’re not anointed hallowed places.
It’s only live that their stock of sound effects becomes really astonishing. You just can’t get at the real essence of what they’re doing on the other end of a pair of earphones.
As an a capella group they sing exclusively. A lot of their popular work so far has seen them positioned as backing singers or as a rhythm section, so to be privy to one of their performances cracks the blinds open a bit as regards how blooming talented they are.
As far as performance goes they are outstanding. Various members of the group take turns in the spotlight and the freedom they have to express the individuality and beautiful strangeness of their musical roots is refreshing.
Their tendency is to start slowly, setting the scene in songs like Long Walk To Freedom. The sounds of a slow-burning progression, starting out with a discontent baritone but ending in celebration, is fantastic in emoting the sense of a journey of epic proportions.
They’re great at this, probably because the texture and the sound of a well-oiled human voice is much more emotive than anything an electric guitar or a set of drums can do.
And their antics onstage mirror the jocular, slap-stick of pantomime. They talk and dance and throw a myriad of high-kicks – thoroughly enthusiastic and clearly having a great time, they can get a bit goofy, a tad silly.
Add to that the fact that there are zero awkward silences between songs, no shuffling about between instruments or musical adjustments to be made. It’s scripted like a play, each scene leading to the next seamlessly.
Sibongiseni and Thulani Shabalala stand as the two main protagonists, integral in the act of taking control of the performance, turning it into a narrative in which each song adds something to the overall mood, while the intervals are more like soliloquies introduced for explanation.
And in the end they get a standing ovation from the crowd in the National Concert Hall, because they’re great musicians, and great performers, but most of all because they do the impossible by becoming lovable.