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South African group to make return appearance in performing arts series

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – The internationally acclaimed South African male a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s tour to promote its latest album will include Bethel College.

Ladysmith performs as part of the Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts Series Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m. in Memorial Hall. This is Ladysmith’s second local appearance – it was last on the HBPA stage in 2010.

Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers, Ladysmith’s first studio recording in five years, was recently nominated for a Grammy® Award in the Best World Music Album category.

The late South African president Nelson Mandela designated Ladysmith Black Mambazo “South Africa’s cultural ambassadors to the world.” In 2014, the group marked 50 years of making music rich with the intricate rhythms and harmonies of their native South African musical traditions.

Ladysmith founder, farm-boy-turned-factory-worker Joseph Shabalala, assembled the original iteration of the group in the early 1960s. Ladysmith is Shabalala’s hometown, about three hours west of Durban and east of Johannesburg; Black refers to the ox, the strongest farm animal; and Mambazo is the Zulu word for a chopping axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to “chop down” any singing rival.

Ladysmith’s collective voices were so tight and their harmonies so polished that by the end of the 1960s, they were banned from competitions, although they were welcome to participate as entertainers.

A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to Ladysmith’s first record contract and the beginning of a discography that currently includes more than 50 recordings. Their philosophy in the studio was, and continues to be, as much about preserving musical heritage as entertainment.

The group borrows heavily from a traditional music called isicathamiya, which developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Mine workers would entertain themselves after a six-day work week by singing into the wee hours of Sunday morning. When the miners returned to the homelands, this musical tradition came with them.

During the 1970s and early ’80s, Ladysmith established themselves as the most successful singing group in South Africa. Paul Simon incorporated the group’s rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his landmark 1986 album Graceland, considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences.

A year later, Simon produced Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s first worldwide release, Shaka Zulu, which won a Grammy® in 1988 for Best Folk Recording. The group has won three subsequent Grammy® Awards, for Raise Your Spirit Higher (2004), Ilembe (2009) and Singing for Peace Around the World (2013), and has been nominated a total of 17 times.

In addition to their work with Paul Simon, Ladysmith has recorded with numerous artists from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge and many others.

Their film work includes a featured appearance in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker video and Spike Lee’s Do It A Cappella, and they have provided soundtrack material for Disney’s The Lion King, Part II, Eddie Murphy’s Coming To America, Marlon Brando’s A Dry White Season, Sean Connery’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, James Earl Jones’ Cry, The Beloved Country and Clint Eastwood’s Invictus.

The documentary On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom, which tells the story of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, was nominated for an Academy Award®. The group has appeared on Broadway, has been nominated for Tony® Awards and has won a Drama Desk Award.

Reserved seating and general admission tickets for Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Feb. 7 performance are available at hesstonbethel.org or by calling 620-327-8158. Single tickets are for sale at Bethel College’s Thresher Shop in Schultz Student Center and in the Hesston College bookstore during regular business hours. Prices range from $27 to $23 with discounts available for students and senior citizens.

The rest of the 2016–17 HBPA lineup is the Montréal Guitare Trio, March 4 in Krehbiel Auditorium on the Bethel campus, and Sybarite5, a string quintet, April 20 in Hesston Mennonite Church.

The Hesston-Bethel Performing Arts series is funded in part by the Hesston Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, the City of North Newton, Excel Industries and Hustler Turf Equipment (Hesston), the Hesston Community Foundation, the North Newton Community Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and area businesses and patrons.

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