Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Long Walk to Freedom - Gallo Music International

When Joseph Shabalala was a young mechanic in South Africa 40 years ago, he dreamed of a form of a capella music with dance accompaniment rooted in Zulu tradition. He recruited a bunch of his brothers and male friends, who proceeded to earn the “mambazo” part of their name (it means “ax”) by cutting down the competition in choral contests. Two decades later, the three-cord simplicity of one of the group’s then-rare recordings came to the attention of singer/songwriter Paul Simon.

This year, Ladysmith celebrates the 20th anniversary of its ascent into world music stardom, as collaborators on Simon’s Grammy-winning Graceland album. And this time, there’s a tribe of world-class artists who’ve assembled to grace Ladysmith’s recording, with an interesting variety of results. Melissa Etheridge adds a feminine touch to a retake of Graceland’s propulsive “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” and Sarah McLachlan pretties up that earlier album’s plaintive “Homeless.” Taj Mahal is more prominent on “Mbube,” lending his bluesy moan and guitar to the tune we know better as “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” The material, representing the group’s career in chronological order, is consistently dreamy and simple, though Emmylou Harris’ clarion contribution to a gospel medley and the Zulu-costumed dancing seen on embedded videos (and on stage) liven things up.