Release Date: Feb 1, 2011
Record label: Razor & Tie Music
Genre(s): International, African Traditions, African Folk, South African Folk, Southern African, Afro-Pop, Mbube, South African Pop, Township Jive, Worldbeat
Something of a follow-up to 1994's Gift of the Tortoise, Songs from a Zulu Farm is another Ladysmith Black Mabazo children's album, on which the nine-member South African male choir led by Joseph Shabalala sings traditional songs relating to children, specifically back home on the farm. Since the singing is in Zulu for the most part, the focus on nature, children, and animals may not be immediately apparent to an English speaker, who will hear the disc as a typical collection of a cappella singing, with Shabalala taking a lead part in front of the group's harmonies on short, repeated phrases. But occasionally the sounds of laughing children and animals intrude, and occasionally an English phrase is used, such as in "Imithi Gobakahle (Children Come Home).
South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s fiftysomethingth album, Songs from a Zulu Farm, intends to convey the sounds of the rural homesteads on which its members grew up, enlivening and reinterpreting the songs they sang as children. This presents a baffling challenge for the casual Western listener: a band with a massive back catalogue, singing in a strange language, with no instruments or melodic structure to steady the ship. And what does a Zulu farm sound like in the first place? The easiest response might be to forget all these incidentals, to sit back and let the music take its course.
Twenty-five years ago, a well-established Zulu vocal group teamed up with an American pop star with extraordinary results. Ladysmith Black Mambazo's contribution to Paul Simon's Graceland album brought the group success in the west that has continued ever since. They may not be wildly fashionable among many young South Africans, who look to black America for their inspiration, but Ladysmith have become one of the most successful live acts in the world, singing unaccompanied and in Zulu, spending six to 10 months a year abroad (they will be here in May).
The South African vocal group breaks new ground by looking to their past. Jon Lusk 2011 South Africa’s best known iscathamiya (Zulu a cappella) group have worked hard over nearly five decades to keep an ostensibly rather narrow musical palette fresh and appealing, with mixed results. While their contribution to Paul Simon’s 1986 album Graceland was a commercial and artistic triumph, subsequent pop collaborations at times compromised or dumbed down their four-part vocal harmonies, leading to justified criticisms and accusations of cheesiness.