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Ladysmith Black Mambazo with the English Chamber Orchestra

No Boundaries
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Musically distant from the township boogie of mbanqanga and the post-hip-hop mish-mash of kwaito (in the '90s), Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been the Western-friendly face of South African music for two decades, since Paul Simon adopted the then-20-year-old group. The group's singing style is called "isicathamiya" ("tip-toeing"), an apt description for its hushed, aesthetic take on these African and Western spiritual and classical compositions -- from Zulu congregational songs to J.S. Bach. Ladysmith founder Joseph Shabalala calls theirs "a sort of Zulu classical singing," and it's true that the vast-yet-gentle choir sound matches such pieces beautifully. But the English Chamber Orchestra's contribution here is almost laughable: Besides stiff-upper-lipping "Amazing Grace" and a once-rhythmic arrangement of "Dona Nobis Pacem," the strings seem to mostly be just adding Ladysmith to their CV.

 

 

The exception that proves the rule is a reading of Schubert's "Sanctus" combining tenor Robert Brooks' operatic strength with Ladysmith's perfected grace. It's neither Euro nor Afro, quiet nor overwhelming, but all of the above, and obviously what conductor Ralf Gothoni wanted for all of No Boundaries.

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