Friday, June 25, 2004

MAMBAZOBIT: One of the greatest memories we have of the first Glastonbury we went to - we're guessing it would be 1991 - was towards the end of the last night, a little demob happy and full of warm memories and hot chocolate, we made our way through the campsite overlooking the Pyramid Stage, avoiding the drunks and the fires, to an almost deserted area right at the top; our journey was accompanied by the sound of Ladysmith Black Mambazo drifitng across the hillside. That happy memory adds even greater sadness to the news that Ben Shabalala has been shot dead in Durban. The events behind his murder seem unclear at the moment; the rest of Ladysmith have pledged to continue with their current tour in his honour. Ben had joined the band in 1979; in 1993, the year they accompanied Mandela and DeKlerk to the current and future South African presidents' Nobel Prize Investiture, Shabalala quit to spend more time with his family - an old cliche that, in this instance, was actually grounded in the truth. The best-known isicathamiya band in the world, they took their name from Ladysmith, their home town, Black - in honour of black oxen, the strongest of all the beasts of burden, and Mambazo, a type of chopper, illustrating their ability to "chop down" any competiting acts. Having helped out Paul Simon on his (aparthied sanctions busting) Gracelands album, Simon repaid the favour by producing their 1987 collection Shaka Zulu. Their first US release, it also won a grammy in the Best Traditional Folk Album category.

Jospeh Shabalala, founder of the group and Ben's brother, said:

"Ben was not just my brother, but is a part of my history. He is a part of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's legacy. While his life has ended in this terrible way, his voice, his memory and his spirit will continue on with Ladysmith Black Mambazo."

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