On Stage: Ladysmith Black Mambazo at Longwood

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By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

There are dozens of music acts with “Smith” in their names including Aerosmith, Echosmith, Gunsmiths, Smiths, DJ Whitesmith, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Robert Smith, Locksmith, Smith, Goldsmith, Smithereens, Patti Smith, Wordsmith, Silversmith, G.E. Smith, Tinsmith, Elliott Smith, Blacksmith, and The Tunesmiths.

Two of them will be performing in the area on August 14 – Ladysmith Black Mambazo here in Chester County and Echosmith on the Camden Waterfront.

On Tuesday evening, Longwood Gardens (Route 1, Kennett Square, 610-388-1000, www.longwoodgardens.org) will host the legendary South African a capella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

Very few music acts from Africa have become popular around the world rather than just in their home countries. One of the exceptions is Ladysmith Black Mambazo – South Africa’s high-stepping, globe-trotting vocal group that sings in the vocal styles of isicathamiya and mbube.

“We just got nominated for a Grammy for our album ‘Shaka Zulu Revisited’,” said LBM singer Albert Mazibuko, during a phone interview last week from a tour stop in Truro, Massachusetts.

“The original ‘Shaka Zulu’ album was the first record that got us nominated for a Grammy. We also released a children’s album last year that got a nomination.”

On November 28, 2017, Ladysmith Black Mambazo received Grammy Award nominations for the group’s two 2017 albums.” Songs of PEACE & LOVE for Kids & Parents Around the World” has been nominated for Best Children’s Album of 2017. “Shaka Zulu Revisited” has been nominated for Best World Music Album of 2017.

It marked Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s 18th and 19th Grammy Award nominations during the past 30 years. Ladysmith Black Mambazo has won Grammy Awards four times– 1988, 2004, 2009 and 2013. The group was nominated for a Grammy Award in 2016 for the album “Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers.”

The group’s name comes from the singers’ hometown (Ladysmith), the ox (Black) and the ax (Mambazo) because of the way LBM cut down its opposition in singing competitions.

“Joseph Shabalala started the group in 1960 and I’ve been with them ever since 1969,” said Mazibuko. “We grew up in the same family. His grandfather was married to my grandfather’s sister. We were all born in Ladysmith, which is 200 miles from Johannesburg and 200 miles from Durban.

“In his family, there were eight and in my family six. We all lived in one place and the music was always there. My grandparents were ifingoma – fortune tellers. My grandmother would sing every night to the spirits that possessed her – traditional singing with drums and dance.”

Shabalala and Mazibuko still are the foundation of the group as well as the musical directors.

“Joseph is 76 now so he has been staying home,” said Mazibuko, who still lives in Ladysmith. “I’m in my 70s and I’m still dancing. I’m surprised that my body is still the same as it was when I was in my 40s. Our body is something that is amazing. With what I do, if I stretch and prepare properly, I have no problems singing and dancing like I always have.”

Ladysmith Mambazo took a real look at its past with one its most recent albums “Songs from a Zulu Farm.”

“Joseph and I had been talking about all the time we were visiting places when we were growing up. We realized it would be nice if we could record the songs we sang as children. So, that’s what we did on ‘Songs from a Zulu Farm’.

“It came out really well. We sang the songs, expanded them and added more music. Then, when we went into the recording studio, other songs came up. The only song that was new to my ears was ‘Old McDonald’. Some of Joseph’s grandsons and relatives knew the traditional songs so we invited them to join us in the studio.

“It was so enjoyable doing all those old songs. Selecting which songs to sing and record was a collective effort. Everyone contributed. And, we talked a lot about the songs and what order to put them in for the album.

“I knew all the songs from when I was young. My favorite is ‘Leliyafu” which is about clouds in the sky. It means ‘Clouds, Move Away!’. When I was a child, it would be cold, so we’d sing to the clouds — telling them to go away so the sun would be out.”

While an accurate total of albums released by Ladysmith Black Mambazo is almost impossible to determine, it’s safe to say that the band’s latest album “Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers” is somewhere between the 60th and the 70th.

The band’s patriarch Joseph Shabalala may have left the touring band but his influence is still strong. And, the mantle is being carried by his four sons – Joseph Shabalala, Thamsanqa Shabalala, Sibongiseni Shabalala and Thulani Shabalala.

“We recorded the new album last year,” said Mazibuko. “It was a very exciting project because it was the first time that the Shabalala boys went to the studio without their father’s guidance. Everything was up to them.

“Our aim is that, if possible, Ladysmith Black Mambazo will be around for a long time – even though we are threatened by the modern way of music.”

The lively singing group has achieved a status as South Africa’s cultural emissaries at home and around the world.

“When I was nine, I formed my own group – Isicathamiya, which is a Zulu word meaning tiptoe dancing,” said Mazibuko. “You lift the leg up and then stomp it hard when you bring it down.”

The music style known as Isicathamiya was born in the mines of South Africa. Black workers were taken by rail to work far away from their homes and their families.

Poorly housed and poorly paid, they would entertain themselves after a six-day week by singing songs into the wee hours every Sunday morning. When miners returned to the homelands, the tradition returned with them.

Mazibuko said, “We feel that if Ladysmith Black Mambazo can continue singing isicathamiya, younger people will realize that if you do your own thing and work hard, you can be a success.”

Video link for Ladysmith Black Mambazo – https://youtu.be/iUH7PM0-cpI.

The show at Longwood Gardens will start at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $33, $43 and $53. Ticket price includes all-day Gardens admission.

Echosmith

On August 14, Echosmith will bring its lively, energetic brand of indie-rock to the BB&T Pavilion (1 Harbour Boulevard, Camden, New Jersey, 856-225-0163, www1.ticketmaster.com) when it shares a bill with headliner Pentatonix.

Even before Echosmith released its debut album “Talking Dreams” in 2013, the Los Angeles alt-pop band had been gaining popularity at an amazing rate. The Sierota siblings — Sydney (vocals/keyboard), Jamie (vocals/guitar), Noah (vocals/bass), and Graham (drums) – grew up in Southern California in a musical household and shared a love for playing instruments and listening to bands as varied as Coldplay, The Smiths, U2, Joy Division, and Fleetwood Mac.

The multi-platinum alt-pop sibling trio just completed a 25-show headlining tour and then almost immediately returned to the road to join Pentatonix on a massive North American summer tour.

“Getting on this tour was random,” said Noah Sierota, during a phone interview at the beginning of the month from a tour stop in Pelham, Alabama.

“We didn’t get asked until just weeks before it started. We had just gotten back from a headlining tour that ran from mid-May until mid-July. We also had a show in Japan between the tours. We haven’t been home a bunch this year.”

Echosmith most recently dropped the infectious radio single, “Over My Head,” which has accumulated close to 20 million streams and is ridung high on the Hot AC chart.

“‘Over My Head,’ which will be on our new album, came out in late March – right before our headline tour,” said Sierota. “We’re now thinking about another. We have a song – a mid-to-uptempo song – that we’re thinking about. We’ll make the decision soon.”

As soon as they could hold instruments, the Sierota sibligs began playing music together as kids. They traded the living room for farmers markets and open mic nights, while quietly honing their songwriting chops.

“Talking Dreams” earned a prestigious RIAA gold certification, yielding the double-platinum breakout smash “Cool Kids,” which notched a quarter-of-a-billion Spotify streams, and the platinum-certified “Bright.”

In 2014, Echosmith was named both an MTV “Artist to Watch” and a VH1 “You Oughta Know” Artist. They have performed all over national TV, from Ellen and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon with “Cool Kids” to Live!

Last month, the band released its new single “Over My Head,” which is the first taste of the next album that’s coming this summer. It’s also the latest release since the band returned with the “Inside A Dream” EP last fall.

“Our dad was a musician and songwriter,” said Sierota. “He played piano and drums. We all got to learn everything – bass, guitar, upright bass, synthesizer. And, we all play drums. It makes songwriting sessions more fun.

“With songwriting, we start with what we bring to the group – melodies or an idea. We write with our dad too. We care about the message we send out. It’s a fun process. Usually, a story idea comes first, and we look for a message.”

Even though the siblings are young – Graham 19, Sydney 21, Noah, 22 – they have been doing this for a long time.

“We started at a very young age,” said Sierota. “About 12 years ago, we all played together at a cancer benefit. We played songs by Rage Against the Machine, Rihanna and Coldplay. Ever since then, we’ve been trying to find places to play. We avoided the pay-for-play scene in L.A. – too much pressure and not my favorite way.

“We did our first recording when we started having a studio at our house. Eventually, we got on YouTube. But, nothing worked until we got signed to Warner Bros. We did a free concert at Warner Bros. pretty soon after we got signed.”

Another step in the band’s development was playing on the Warped Tour in 2013 and 2014.

“The Warped Tour is a tough tour – but it’s a fun tour,” said Sierota. “There’s nothing like it. Every single city – it’s the hottest day. But, you learn that to work in the music industry, you’ve got to grind it out.

“We released our first album in 2013 and it’s been all EPs since then. Our new album is done but we’re still figuring out details. It has no name yet. We do have all the songs done, mixed and mastered and we’re working on the visual components. We’ve had time to work on every aspect.

“Now, we just have to deal with the business timing. We’re actually getting some definite plans set. It’s a little more synth-heavy than our first album. We keep growing as a band and our sound is a little more diverse that it was five years ago.”

Video link for Echosmith — https://youtu.be/W-QliajJLdE.

The show at BB&T Pavilion, which also features Pentatonix and Calum Scott, will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $25.

The BB&T Pavilion will be rocking out two nights in a row. On August 15, the venue along the Camden Waterfront will host a show featuring Breaking Benjamin, Five Finger Death Punch and Nothing More.

Nothing More

Over the years, the Texas-based band Nothing More has established reputation for consistency, integrity and making good music.

Founded in 2003 in San Antonio, Texas, Nothing More still has two of the four original members (plus another who joined two years in) – and a track record of releasing only quality material.

Since the band’s inception, it has cultivated a rapturous fanbase the old-fashioned way — by releasing groundbreaking music, tirelessly touring and cultivating a relationship with their fans that transcends trends

In 15 years, the band has released just five studio albums. Nothing More’s latest full-length “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” features Jonny Hawkins (vocals), Mark Vollelunga (guitar), Daniel Oliver (bass) and Ben Anderson (drums) pooling their talents develop a sonic palette comprised of elements ranging from progressive metal to pop.

Nothing More is still touring in support of “The Stories We Tell Ourselves,” which was released September 15, 2017 on Better Noise Records.

Recently, the band was nominated for three Grammy Awards. “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” was nominated for best rock album, and its single “Go to War” (which scored the band its first No. 1 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart) was nominated for best rock performance and best rock song. The group is the only act to receive nominations in all three categories.

“Mark and Jonny formed the band in 2003 when they were still in high school in San Antonio,” said Oliver, during a recent phone interview from a tour stop in The Woodlands, Texas.

“I joined the band in 2005. We took a vow of poverty and dropped out of college to pursue it full-time. We didn’t have a ‘Plan B.’

“One reason that attracted me to the band was that they took it really seriously. Our philosophy was D.I.Y. We didn’t need a record label. We became a big band in San Antonio. Things grew steadily, and, after a while, we were a regional band. We played enough shows that there was enough money to keep the band going. We learned how to do a lot of things on our own – including record production. Jonny is a great producer.”

Each band member had individual skills that contributed to Nothng More’s D.I.Y success.

“I was more into mechanical engineering,” said Oliver. “For example, I converted our van to run on vegetable oil. I also did welding for our stuff onstage. We’re only four dudes and we made it work.”

Nothing More made three albums in the 00’s – “Shelter” (2004), “Save You/Save Me” (2007) and “The Few Not Fleeting” (2009). The Texas quartet followed with “Nothing More” in 2014 and “The Stories We Tell Ourselves” in 2017.

“Everything was steady cruising even before the label came on board with our self-titled record,” said Oliver. “We made the album with Kickstarter before we even had a label.”

The band spent several years recording “Nothing More, released it independently in June 2013, and then began touring in support of the album. A big break occurred in September at the 2013 Aftershock Festival. After a successful show on the first day of the festival, the band was asked to come back and perform on the second day to replace a bigger-named band at one of the show’s larger stages.

The shows exposed them to a much larger crowd than they usually played. After playing a powerful set at the second show, the band finally began getting a number of record label offers. In March 2014, the band signed a five-album deal with Eleven Seven Music.

The “Nothing More” LP was then given a much wider release by the label on June 4, 2014. The re-released album charted — debuting at number 33 on the Billboard 200 — and sold close to 10,000 copies in its opening week.

“After signing with Eleven Seven, things really took off,” said Oliver. “We toured the album a lot in 2014 and 2015. Then, we started working on the new album in January 2016. Our deadline was June 2017.

“We did the drums at Orb Studio, which is located just outside Austin. The rest was tracked at our band house and at Jonny’s studio in his apartment. ‘Go to War’ was the first single and the next single was ‘Do You Really Want It?’ The third single was ‘Who We Are’ and ‘Just Say When’ is the current single.

“We’ve bene playing a lot of songs from the album in our shows. We’ve been on the road a lot. We just got back from playing festivals in Europe and now we’re on a big tour with Breaking Benjamin and Five Finger Death Punch. As usual, we’re keeping really busy.”

Video link for Nothing More – https://youtu.be/T3E6AKDbI2Y.

The show on August 15 at the BB&T Pavilion, which also features Breaking Benjamin and Five Finger Death Punch, will start at 8 p.m. Ticket prices start at $30.

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