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Ladysmith Black Mambazo/Paul Simon: “You Can Call Me Al”

This is intended as a Ladysmith Black Mambazo post, not one on Paul Simon. Initially, I was going to use the beautiful rendition of The Lion Sleeps Tonight that the band did with The Mint Juleps, but decided to feature this terrific version of You Can Call Me Al from the landmark Graceland album that Simon and band did in a 1987 concert in Zimbabwe.

Here is the beginning of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s entry in the African Music Encyclopedia:

Ladysmith Black Mambazo first came togeher in the early 1960s under the gentle guidance of sweet-voiced Joseph Shabalala. His inspiration for the group came to him in a dream in which a choir of children sang and danced. Shabalala soon transfered that dream to real life when he formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM).

Ladysmith Black Mambazo (Ladysmith is a South African township, Black Mambazo means black axe) is part of the time-honored tradition of South African Zulu male choral music called isicathamiya (derived from the Zulu word meaning “to walk or step on one’s toes lightly”) that transformed Zulu a capella. Among the most vital experiences of isicathamiya are competitions held every weekend in small venues in Johannesburg and Durban, among other cities. Under a strict set of rules judges (which before the end of apartheid usually consisted of an all-white panel) rate up to thirty choirs competing for cash prizes in events that often lasted from Saturday night to Sunday morning.

Here is the band’s site and two other songs: Iningi liyabou Ububende and How Long. Ladysmith Black Mambazo is playing in Irleand next week and will kick off a long North American tour in January.

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--A Tribe Called Quest to The Dick Hyman Trio (In other words, A to H)

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Reading Music

The stories of the great bands and musicians are fascinating. Musicians as a group are brilliant, but often troubled. The combination of creativity and drama makes for great reading.

Here are some books to check out.

Duke Ellington brought class, sophistication and style to jazz which, until that point, was proudly unpolished and raucous. His story is profound. The author, Terry Teachout, also wrote "Pops," the acclaimed bio of Louis Armstrong. Click here or on the image.


What else is there to say? Here is the story behind every song written by The Beatles. Click here or on the image.


The Grateful Dead don't get enough credit for the profound nature of its lyrics. Many of the band's songs are driven by a deep and literate Americana ("I'm Uncle Sam/That's who I am/Been hidin' out/In a rock and roll band" and "Majordomo Billy Bojangles/Sit down and have a drink with me/What's this about Alabama/Keeps comin' back to me?").

David Dodd's exhaustive study tells the story, song by song. Click here or on the image.

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