Music Review: LADYSMITH BLACK MAMBAZO (Royce Hall UCLA)

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by Tony Frankel on March 24, 2020

in Music,Theater-Los Angeles

PRESERVING THE SPIRIT

For the last live performance I may see for a long, long time, I attended a near-empty Royce Hall for the recording of a concert by Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The group — best known for their astounding chorale rhythms on Paul Simon’s Graceland — had cancelled a previous date due to the death of their founder, Joseph Shabalala. But upon arrival for the newly scheduled concert, they — along with the rest of us — discovered that a mandatory lockdown was about to begin as a preventative measure against the spread of the coronavirus. So, UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) — along with KCRW — decided to record Ladysmith Black Mambazo on that rainy afternoon, Monday March 16. Thus, all of the spirit, joy, and unwavering positivity was captured just for you before the men returned safely to South Africa. As I sat there watching, it was like a dreamy send-off to the context of “Safer at Home.”

The concert will stream this Thursday, March 26, at 9 pm PDT, and can be seen on YouTube and heard on KCRW. The 90-minute special includes the original production design and choreography, displayed for three camera operators, a few staff and a very modest crew. As far as I know, I was the only press member, and it was a bit strange, as if this was a private concert from the Make-a-Wish Foundation. But the universalisms of the band’s lyrics brought home that this is a community event. “Tough Times Never Last / Strong People Do” and “The Deeper the Roots / The Stronger the Tree” and “Music Has the Power to Heal the World” made me feel empowered and right at home.

I also thought it commendable that the founder’s three sons — all of them frontmen — didn’t mention their father’s recent passing. It was clear his joy continued to exist in the living. This may be a good thought for the future.

photo by Tony Frankel

Ladysmith Black Mambazo
presented by CAP UCLA and KCRW
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Thursday, March 26, at 9PM
still playing on YouTube

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