The story of Joseph Bhekizizwe Shabalala is the story of stubborn dreams. It is about an intrepid African poet of song whose vision to make music an instrument of peace, turned him into a global icon and ambassador of South Africa’s vast and diverse musical and cultural heritage.
Born in 1940 on a white-owned farm, barely eight years before the rise to power of the Nationalist Party and the official introduction of apartheid, Joseph Shabalala had a difficult childhood. Like scores of blacks in a country in which they were daily subjected to gross human rights violations, Joseph learnt early on that he belonged to a people and race that had been dispossessed of their land and human freedoms. Like all children of parents who worked and lived on white-owned farms at the time, as a child he was conscripted into farm labour, and experienced the often dehumanizing conditions that characterized the lives of black farm workers.
In 1956, at the tender age of 14, Joseph Shabalala lost his father, Mulwane, a renowned herbalist and healer with the rare gift of healing mentality ill patients back into sanity and holistic wellbeing. As the eldest son in a poor family of four boys and eight girls, Joseph had to quickly grow into adulthood and do his utmost to fully support his mother Nomandla Elinah Shabalala, umaZondo. It was this commitment towards the wellbeing of his family that saw him leave for Durban in 1959, thereby beginning his trials and tribulations as a migrant worker and victim of the harsh pass laws and discriminatory labour practices.
In the story of Joseph Bhekizizwe Shabalala, the hills of Jolwane, Mgogoda and farms such as Pholweni and Embuzweni loom large. Alongside the Shabalalas, family names such as Mazibuko (blood relatives), Hlubi, Hlatshwayo, Sishange, Dlalisa and Maduna, are integral in understanding Joseph Bhekizizwe Shabalala’ s odyssy.
Ultimately, this is the story of the man behind the majestic musical phenomenon known as the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, that is at the heart of the musical, Mshengu – the father of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. How does one really begin to capture the story that spans seven decades, a journey that says so much about the power of stubborn dreams, and how one man relentlessly sought to bring unity and respect for all humanity irrespective of colour, race, creed and geographic borders? What is this music genre now commonly known as cothoza? How did one visionary ambassador of song turn, what was once, just another countryside folk sound into a magnetic and world-renowned musical heartbeat?
Come along and join us as we pay tribute through vibrant acting, music and dance, to a formidable legacy.
You simply cannot afford to miss this extravaganza as we take you on the dazzling journey of Joseph Bhekizizwe Shabalala and the trailblazing Ladysmith Black Mambazo.