Joseph Shabalala of Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir dies at age 78

Songwriter and popularly regarded as the founder and director of choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, passed away on Tuesday 11th of February.

Joseph Shabalala

The 78-year old songster, Joseph Shabalala  was confirmed dead in a hospital in Pretoria. The news of his death was confirmed by the group’s manager, Xolani Majozi. The other group members who are currently on tour in the US have been informed about the tragic death of their leader.

Although the cause of the death is yet to be ascertained, however, Xolani says his health has been deteriorating ever since he had a back surgery in 2013.


About Joseph Shabala

Joseph Shabalala — his full name was Bhekizizwe Joseph Siphatimandla Mxoveni Mshengu Bigboy Shabalala — was born on Aug. 28, 1941, near the town of Ladysmith, where his parents, Jonathan Mluwane Shabalala and Nomandla Elina Shabalala, worked on a white-owned farm.

In 1958 he left to find factory work in the port city of Durban, about 200 miles to the southeast. There he sang with the group Highlanders before returning to Ladysmith and starting a group, the Black Ones, with some of his brothers and cousins in 1960.

Mr. Shabalala often said that a series of dreams he had in 1964 had led him to reshape the music of the group, which became Ladysmith Black Mambazo. He refined an a cappella Zulu choir style called isicathamiya — “stalking style” — which had grown out of song-and-dance competitions in hostels for migrant mineworkers, an urban adaptation of rural traditions.

Mr. Shabalala’s version of isicathamiya was built on plush bass-heavy harmonies, call-and-response drive and dramatic contrasts of soft and loud passages, along with choreography that included tiptoeing moves and head-high kicks.

Carting over five Grammy awards and featured heavily on Paul Simon’s Graceland album, Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir is regarded as the pioneers of the traditional Zulu music connecting with international pop audience.

They also reached number 15 in the UK charts with a cover of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, for the 1995 Rugby World Cup.


In other news, YBNL Olamide recently released an album titled “999 EP” featuring Phyno, Rhatti, Show, Cheque, Jayboi, Sosa-E and Jackmillz.

This album is the first since YBNL Mafia Family collaboration album which was released in December 2018.

Listen to the album track below