Long Walk to Freedom

Ladysmith Black Mambazo co-founder Albert Mazibuko talks about apartheid and the power of music

"The dream of singing," he enthuses, "was so overwhelming that we never even thought about what we were going to live with. You know, there is a time when you believe in something so much that you believe you can move mountains. I remember my mother and father scolded me very much. They said, 'You should be working! We are starving here. Who's going to take care of us?' I said to them, 'I don't know, but I believe we are going to accomplish something with this. I just don't know what. I cannot touch it, but I can feel it.' When we practiced, we would be consumed by the sound. Like we were living in our own fantasy world where we had everything — as long as we were singing, it felt like that."

This fantasy, however, has obviously come to bear in many ways on concrete reality. Later this year, Ladysmith hopes to open a school to teach traditional Zulu singing and dance forms. And, though the members of the group have been hoping to launch the school since 1991, the past suggests discounting the odds against them. Early on in the group's history, for example, with the discriminatory practices of the apartheid regime still going strong, the movement of nonwhites throughout South Africa was severely restricted.

"You had to have permission papers to travel around the country," Mazibuko explains. But for years, Ladysmith never had formal authorization to do so. So how did they circumvent this? Literally with song: Whenever they arrived at a police checkpoint, they would just start singing.

Laughing, Mazibuko says, "It worked every time!"

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