Part singing, part chanting and part dancing, Ladysmith Black Mambazo's performance at the State Theatre on Wednesday fulfilled the group's mission of spreading peace, love and harmony around the world through the music of its native South Africa.
The group formed in the early 1960s and some of its original members, including founder Joseph Shabalala, are still performing today. Its 90-minute set encompassed its entire catalog from early recordings to its most recent album, 2011's Grammy nominated "Songs from a Zulu Farm."
The State Theatre stage was lined with nine microphones. The sparse setup allowed plenty of room for the members to dance in time with the music. Members' matching red socks could be seen as they marched and kicked — the kicks were so high and so perfectly timed that I couldn't help but think of the Radio City Rockettes at some points.
Much of the group's material is based in traditional South African music passed down from generations past. Shabalala also noted that many members are related, and the family atmosphere helps them cope with homesickness during long stretches on the road. The song "Thalaza" ("I Miss My Home, I Miss the Farm") expressed those sentiments and allowed many members to take solos to close the first set.
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Other songs dealt with various aspects of life on the farm, including "Yangiluma Inkukhu" ("The Biting Chicken") and "Uthekwane" ("The Prettiest Bird"). Dancing continued in these songs with members taking turns impersonating the birds mentioned in them, much to the crowd's delight. The vocal harmonies were very strong throughout the set, making it easy to forget that there were not any instruments on stage to back them up.
Though talking between songs was limited, Shabalala did thank the audience for coming and expressed the group's gratitude for the privilege to perform over the past five decades.
"Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a family," he said. "Our mission is to spread the culture of South Africa — love, peace and harmony throughout the world. You being here tonight adds to that."
Jenna Spinelle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.