Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu [Heads Up]

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One thing about Ladysmith Black Mambazo is that you know exactly what you're getting. Wonderful vocal phrases and answering, and with Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu, it does what it says on the tin, honoring the great leader who really forged the Zulu nation. Group head Joseph Shabalala is still the frontman, and the hushed choral responses to his singing have a kid of awed magic about them. But even at low volume, there's no doubting the passion that pervades it all. The big problem is that the whole album is hushed -- there's no real variety in the arrangements from track to track, and little variation in tempo, which can make it all seem a bit like one endless cut. No doubting the quality, but to really make a lasting impact, it needs something more, like the experimentation they've undertaken in the last few years. It all ends up feeling like a holding action, which is fine, and every group needs them occasionally, but it's not an outstanding work in their canon musically, despite the subject matter and the reverence (quite possibly too reverent) with which they treat it.

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