Angélique Kidjo and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Angélique Kidjo

Three-time Grammy Award winner Angélique Kidjo is one of the greatest artists in international music today, a creative force with thirteen albums to her name. Time Magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva” .The BBC has included her in its list of the continent’s 50 most iconic figures, and in 2011 The Guardian listed her as one of their Top 100 Most Inspiring Women in the World. Forbes Magazine has ranked Angelique as the first woman in their list of the Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa. She is the recent recipient of the prestigious 2015 Crystal Award given by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland and the 2016 Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award.

As a performer, her striking voice, stage presence and fluency in multiple cultures and languages have won respect from her peers and expanded her following across national borders. Kidjo has cross-pollinated the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America.  

As a performer, her striking voice, stage presence and fluency in multiple cultures and languages have won respect from her peers and expanded her following across national borders. Kidjo has cross-pollinated the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America.  

The new year brings new projects, including her interpretation of The Talking Heads’ classic 1980 album, Remain in Light.  She will record her version of the album with superstar producer Jeff Bhasker (Kanye West, Jay Z, Drake, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Taylor Swift), taking classic songs such as “Crosseyed and Painless," “Once in a Lifetime," and “Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On)" and reinterpreting them with electrifying rhythms, African guitars, and layered backing vocals. Kidjo will bring this musical extravaganza to concert halls and festivals across the globe including a premier performance at Carnegie Hall and U.S. festival debut at Bonnaroo in 2017.

Her star-studded album DJIN DJIN won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Album in 2008, and her album OYO was nominated for the same award in 2011. In January 2014, Kidjo’s first book, a memoir titled Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music (Harper Collins) and her twelfth album, EVE (Savoy/429 Records), were released to critical acclaim. EVE later went on to win the Grammy Award for Best World Music Album in 2015, and her historic, orchestral album Sings with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg (Savoy/429 Records) won a Grammy for Best World Music Album in 2016.

Kidjo has gone on to perform this genre-bending work with several international orchestras and symphonies including the Bruckner Orchestra, The Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and the Philharmonie de Paris. Her collaboration with Philip Glass, IFÉ: Three Yorùbá Songs, made its US debut to a sold out concert with the San Francisco Symphony in June 2015. In addition to performing this new orchestral concert, Kidjo continues to tour globally performing the high-energy concert she’s become famous for with her four-piece band. Her rousing live show was recently captured at the revered Austin City Limits and made its television debut in January 2016.

Kidjo also travels the world advocating on behalf of children in her capacity as a UNICEF and OXFAM goodwill Ambassador. She created her own charitable foundation, Batonga, dedicated to support the education of young girls in Africa.


Ladysmith Black Mambazo

South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo was assembled in the early 1960s by Joseph Shabalala, then a young farmboy turned factory worker. Joseph took the name Ladysmith from his hometown, which lies in the province of kwaZulu Natal, halfway between the city of Durban (where members of the group live today) and Johannesburg. The word Black being a reference to the oxen, the strongest of all farm animals, Joseph’s way of honoring his early life on his family’s farm. Mambazo is the Zulu word for chopping axe, a symbol of the group’s vocal strength, clearing the way for their music and eventual success. 

A radio broadcast in 1970 opened the door to their first record contract – the beginning of an ambitious discography that currently includes more than sixty albums. Their philosophy in the studio was and continues to be just as much about preservation of musical heritage as it is about entertainment. The group borrows heavily from a traditional music called isicathamiya (is-cot-a-ME-Ya), which developed in the mines of South Africa, where black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families. Poorly housed and paid worse, the mine workers would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours on Sunday morning. When the miners returned to the homelands, this musical tradition returned with them.
 
During the 1970’s and early 1980’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo established themselves as the most successful singing group in South Africa. In the mid-1980s, the American singer/songwriter Paul Simon famously visited South Africa and incorporated the group’s rich tenor/alto/bass harmonies into his famous “Graceland” album – a landmark recording that was considered seminal in introducing world music to mainstream audiences. A year later, Paul Simon produced Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s first worldwide release, Shaka Zulu, which garnered the group their first GRAMMY Award, in 1988, for Best Folk Recording. Since then the group has been awarded three more GRAMMY Awards; Raise Your Spirit Higher (2004), Ilembe (2009) and Singing For Peace Around The World (2013) as well as 19 GRAMMY Award nominations (including two in 2017), more than any other World Music group in the history of the Awards. 

In addition to their work with Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has recorded with numerous artists from around the world, including Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Sarah McLachlan, Josh Groban, Emmylou Harris, Melissa Etheridge and many many others. 

A favorite of the late great Nelson Mandela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo traveled with the future South African president, at his request, when he went to Oslo, Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. One year later they were singing at the inauguration of the newly elected President. After many more special appearances with the South African icon, Mandela proclaimed the group South Africa’s Cultural Ambassadors to the World.

In 2014 founder, Joseph Shabalala, retired after over fifty years of leading his group. Joseph passed the leadership torch to his sons Thulani, Sibongiseni, Thamsanqa Shabalala, all who joined Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 1993. Joseph’s sons will carry the group into the future for decades to come. The group sings of peace, of love and for people to live in harmony. They do so on every album and from every concert stage that they appear on.