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Slowing things down

Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu
Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu
By Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Heads Up International.: 2008

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This review first appeared in Turbula in February 2008.

For their third album with the jazz label Heads Up Intl., South African legends Ladysmith Black Mambazo returns to a familiar theme: honoring Zulu nation founder Shaka Zulu. (In 1986, they issued an album titled simply "Shaka Zulu.")

The new album is sonically low-key, almost mellow. Based as always on the group's multi-layered vocal harmonies, and sung in the Zulu dialect of Bantu, this is perhaps LBM's most gentle recording. Everything is very quiet, very subdued, with none of the soaring, uptempo material most of their other albums have featured.

If you speak Zulu, these quiet arrangement undoubtedly put more emphasis the lyrics of founder and lead singer Joseph Shabalala; for most Westerners, though, the result is a focus on the subtle interplay between Shabalala's lead vocals and the response of the chorus. The vocalized chirps, beeps and whistles lend an exotic air to things for American ears, but mostly there is a very warm sense of comfort to be found here.