Award-winning musical group Ladysmith Black Mambazo is bringing the spiritual songs and intricate harmonies of South Africa to the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center (PAC) on Jan. 22.

A capella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo will return to Cal Poly Saturday for the third time with their South African style.

Assistant professor of ethnomusicology Kenneth Habib said he is looking forward to hosting the music group this weekend.

“It really is a privilege to have them here,” Habib said. “They’re a really exciting group and the style of music is very fun. It’s enriching.”

The group gained international recognition when it contributed its unique sounds to musician Paul Simon’s classic American style, collaborating on his 1986 album, “Graceland.”

The group’s performance at Cal Poly is one of many stops on its American tour, which will end in March on the East Coast.

Joseph Shabalala formed Ladysmith Black Mambazo in Durban, South Africa in the ’60s. The first part of the name comes from Shabalala’s hometown, Ladysmith. It is located in the KwaZulu-Natal province, which is home to the Zulu people — the largest ethnic group in South Africa. “Black” refers to oxen, the strongest farm animal, and “Mambazo” means ax in Zulu, communicating that the group’s musical strength will conquer any rivals it may have.

The group has performed twice at Cal Poly, most recently in 2005. Steven Lerian, director of Cal Poly Arts, said the group always receives a strong audience reaction. The previous two shows each sold more than 1,000 tickets.

“They are the kind of iconic group in their musical genre that can come back every five years or so,” Lerian said.

The a cappella choral group is made up of nine members, each with perfectly complementary tenor, alto or bass voices. When the group first formed they were actually banned from local singing competitions because, according to their website, their voices were so polished and tight, it was unfair to other competitors.

Environmental management senior Missy Cochran is a self-proclaimed lover of world music and a fan of Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

“I like the fact that they’re a cappella,” she said. “They take some common songs and sing them in an African style. It’s fun to hear popular music sung in an ethnic style.”

Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music has religious undertones, stemming from Shabalala’s conversion to Christianity in the ‘60s. But the group points out the music is not directed at any one religion; it can invoke emotion in listeners of all spiritual backgrounds.

The music, which Shabalala has called “classical Zulu singing,” blends traditional South African sounds with the emotion and spirituality of Christian gospel music.

Lerian said Cal Poly Arts tries to bring cultural groups to Cal Poly’s campus, which he said is otherwise relatively remote in terms of exposure to other cultures.

Shabalala often refers to Ladysmith Black Mambazo as a form of a mobile academy, teaching the world about South Africa. And for many Cal Poly students, this learning experience may be unlike any of their classes on campus.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo has received three Grammy Awards and collaborated with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Josh Groban and Sarah McLachlan. The group has performed for Pope John Paul II, the Queen of England and has shared the stage with Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton and Phil Colins.

“Songs from a Zulu Farm” is the group’s newest album, which is scheduled for release on Jan. 25. It is part of a larger project, stemming from the members’ desire to share a piece of South African culture that is separate from apartheid issues.

Professor Habib will lead a pre-performance lecture, scheduled for 7 p.m. the same night as the show. He said many topics will be covered, including the history of the group and the choral traditions and harmonies found in their style of music.

“A general audience can learn something of South African musical culture and gain appreciation for vocal music and ranges of vocal expression,” Habib said.

The ticket prices for the Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s performance start at $20.

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