Peace, unity, social harmony, and national pride make a good platform for a leader and an even better foundation for a nation. That's why the unshakeable message of South African icon Shaka Zulu, who united the Zulu tribes, still resonates two centuries after his death.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the a cappella Zulu choir whose reverberations also touch the spirit, pays tribute to the warrior leader on its new album, "Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu," out next Tuesday. "Ilembe" means "greatest warrior," and Shaka Zulu had an unsavory side that was more sinner than saint. These 12 tracks honor his positive legacies of a creative spirit and proud heart with songs that are more warming aural baths of harmony than battle cries - sung in the enveloping Ladysmith style that blends Christian chorale with Zulu chants and "isicathamiya" songs of South African mines.
Without getting too Pollyanna about it, the ability of leader Joseph Shabalala's eight-man choral army to move like one rich, deep voice is the perfect vehicle for themes of coming together for the greater good on "O Mmu Beno Mmu," overcoming obstacles on "Kuyafindw' Osizini," and staying on the right path in "Hlala Nami."
There's nothing terribly different here from the group's other 40-plus albums, but the sound is as caressing as it was when Paul Simon's "Graceland" gave the West its first dose of Ladysmith more than 20 years ago. [Tristram Lozaw]
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Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs Friday at Sanders Theatre. Tickets are $28-$40 at worldmusic.org or 617-876-4275.