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Release: Immediate

Ladysmith Black Mambazo brings joyous vocal music of South Africa to Hancher Feb. 25

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Ladysmith Black Mambazo will bring the distinctive vocal music of South Africa to the University of Iowa for a performance at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25 in Hancher Auditorium. The concert is the first event in Hancher's Voices of Africa series.

Yolisa Nompula, a doctoral student in the UI School of Music, will present a pre-performance discussion at 7 p.m. in the Hancher Greenroom. Nompula was a neighbor of Ladysmith Black Mambazo leader Joseph Shabalala in Durban, South Africa. The discussion will be free to performance ticketholders. Seating is limited.

Ladysmith was the hometown of the Shabalala family, and the vocal group has been in existence since the 1960s. American singer and composer Paul Simon became acquainted with the group in the 1980s, and he introduced them to the world on his "Graceland" recording.

Simon also produced the first Ladysmith Black Mambazo recording released in the United States, "Shaka Zulu," which won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Recording. In a period of eight years, Ladysmith Black Mambazo received five Grammy nominations. Shabalala has given Simon the Zulu name Vulindela, which means "he who has opened the gate."

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has now recorded with many artists, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton and George Clinton, and their film work includes Michael Jackson's "Moonwalker" and Spike Lee's "Do It A Cappella." They provided soundtracks for Eddie Murphy's "Coming to America," Marlon Brando's "A Dry White Season" and James Earl Jones' "Cry the Beloved Country." They have also appeared in numerous commercials, winning CLIO Awards for their advertisements for 7 Up and Lifesavers Candy.

They were featured in the play "The Song of Jacob Zulu," which opened on Broadway in 1993 and was nominated for six Tony Awards. The group was nominated for Best Music for a Play, and they won the Drama Desk Award for Best Original Score. Later, their music for "Nomathemba" won Chicago's highest theater honor, the Jeff Award, for Best Musical Score. In 1996 that play sold out a four-week run at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

The 10-member ensemble sings in a traditional style called "isicathamiya," which was originated in the mines of South Africa. Black workers were taken by rail to mines far from their homes. Poorly housed and paid, they would entertain themselves after a six-day work week by singing songs into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

They referred to themselves as "cothoza mfana" or "tip-toe guys," referring to dance steps choreographed as to avoid disturbing the camp security guards. The miners took their music back to their homelands, where it developed further as part of the community traditions.

"Isicathamiya" became a fierce social competition, held regularly and the highlight of everyone's social calendar. The winners were awarded a goat for their efforts, as well as the adoration of their fans. These competitions are still held in YMCA assembly halls and church basements.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo received their name because of their unequaled record in the competitions. "Black" makes reference to black oxen, considered to be the strongest on the farm. And "Mambazo" is a Zulu word for "ax," referring to the singer's ability to "chop down" the competition. They were so accomplished that eventually they were forbidden to enter competitions, although they were still welcome to attend and sing.

A radio broadcast in 1970 brought their first recording contract. Since that time they have recorded more than 30 albums, and their sales of more than three million albums make them the number one recording group in Africa.

Their latest recording, released in late 1997, is "Heavenly," featuring Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt and Phoebe Snow.

Since their collaborations with Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has come to represent, more than any other artist or group, the traditional culture of South Africa. They have come to be regarded as South Africa's cultural ambassadors, both in their homeland and around the world.

In December of 1993, at Nelson Mandela's request, the group accompanied the future president and President F.W. de Klerk to the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo, Norway. They sang again at Mandela's inauguration as president of South Africa.

Other highlights of their international career include a command performance for the Queen of England, two concerts at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and numerous tours of Europe, North America and Asia.

UI Men's Intercollegiate Athletics is the sponsor of the Voices of Africa Series, through the University of Iowa Foundation.

Tickets for Ladysmith Black Mambazo are $26, $23 and $20. UI student and senior citizens qualify for a 20-percent discount, with Zone 3 tickets available to UI students for $10. Tickets for audience members 17 and younger are half price.

Hancher box office hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. weekdays, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday and 1-3 p.m. Sunday. From the local calling area or outside Iowa, dial (319) 335-1160. Long distance within Iowa and western Illinois is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. Fax to (319) 353-2284. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction.

People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial (319) 335-1158. This number will be answered by box office personnel prepared to offer assistance with handicapped parking, wheelchair access and seating, hearing augmentation and other services. The line is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.