Ladysmith Black Mambazo – Raise Your Spirit Higher

Ladysmith Black MambazoLadysmith Black Mambazo
Raise Your Spirit Higher
(Heads Up – 2003)

Black Mambazo’s first release since the Grammy nominated Live at Royal Albert Hall in 1999 and their first release of new material since Heavenly in 1997 Honors the Historic Ten Year Anniversary of the End of Apartheid.

Throughout history, hardship and adversity have often been a driving force behind the creative process. Individuals stricken by tragedy tap into internal strengths and become better and stronger human beings in the process. Nations and cultures that struggle under oppression ultimately rise up and reinvent their destinies.

Joseph Shabalala and his compatriots in the South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo know these truths all too well. Against a daunting backdrop of political upheaval, social unrest and personal tragedy, the 10-member group has spent the past three decades fusing the disparate but spiritually resonant traditions of Zulu music and Christian gospel music. Along the way, they have learned to harness the healing and unifying power of music as a means to transcend the dark places and raise their spirits higher.

Heads Up International announces the release of Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela (HUCD 3083) and (HUSA 3083), the new Hybrid SACD in 5.1 Surround Sound from Ladysmith Black Mambazo, on January 27, 2004. In English, the word Wenyukela means “raise your spirit higher,” but the language of Shabalala’s stirring and richly layered vocal compositions is universal. Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela is Black Mambazo’s message of hope and unity to a troubled world.

The thirteen tracks on Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela reiterate the message that has transcended Black Mambazo’s music since the group’s earliest days. Survivors of the apartheid movement that divided South Africa for generations, the group widens their scope on this record and addresses many of the same kinds of struggles and cultural clashes that persist around the world.

“The group is as strong as they’ve ever been – full of optimism for the future of their country and for the world, regardless of recent world events,” says one of their managers. “South Africa has been through horrible times. They’ve been through clashes – people disagreeing, people fighting, people killing each other – and Black Mambazo has seen their country come together and work as one people. This is the philosophy that they bring out in their singing and in their performances. This is their message for the world.”

And while the music is clearly rooted in African musical traditions, the message speaks to all people whose ears and hearts are open, says Shabalala, a native of South Africa’s Zulu people who converted to Christianity around the time of his musical awakening in the late 1950s and early ’60s. “Without hearing the lyrics, this music gets into the blood, because it comes from the blood,” he says. “It invokes enthusiasm and excitement, regardless of what you follow spiritually.”

Shabalala’s own spirituality underwent the supreme test during the making of this record. In the spring of 2002, his wife of thirty years was murdered in a church parking lot by a masked gunman. To date, no conviction has been made. But despite the overwhelming grief and rage that inevitably follows such a profound loss, Shabalala chose the spiritual high road and has remained on it since. He keeps Nellie’s memory and spirit alive in his heart and in his music, and his faith remains unshaken.

“At the time that this happened, I tried to take my mind deep into the spirit, because I know the truth is there,” he says. “In my flesh, I might be angry, I might cry, I might suspect somebody. But when I took my mind into the spirit, the spirit told me to be calm and not to worry. Bad things happen, and the only thing to do is to raise your spirit higher.”

He had help from his teenage grandsons, who express their love and support in “Tribute,” a short but moving hip-hop track that closes out Raise Your Spirit Higher – Wenyukela. On the track, they urge their grandfather to be strong and not worry, because their grandmother is in a better and happier place.

Eternally optimistic, Shabalala is confident that his perseverance in the face of personal tragedy can be a powerful sign for the world to heed: “When the world looks at you and finds the tears in your eyes, but you smile in spite of the tears, then they discover that, ‘Oh, he’s right when he says you must be strong, because many things have happened to him, and he still carries on with the spirit of the music.'”