Albert Mazibuko is an original member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, having joined the group in 1969. He is a cousin of the group’s founder and leader, Joseph Shabalala. He lives in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa. To the question of whether he has any plans to retire after so many years on the road, Albert replies “Retire from this beautiful journey? You want me in the grave already?”
As a member of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, I have been privileged to perform at some of the same concerts as the Blind Boys, so hearing them from the wings of a concert stage is the norm for me. Listening to their new album I’ll Find a Way is a new experience because I don’t have any of their other records. How do I feel about this one? Even happier than hearing them from a stage — because they won’t say, “Thank you and good night” and then I won’t hear them anymore. With this album, I can listen over and over.
The Blind Boys of Alabama are the real deal and they sing like it. These aren’t a bunch of make-believe believers going through the motions of singing to make some money. You can hear in their voices that they truly feel the spirit when they sing gospel songs. And that’s the major component of a great gospel album: you feel the passion, you feel the spirit. You don’t even have to be a religious person to listen to the Blind Boys and get caught up in what they are singing. I know this because some of my friends fall into this category and they love I’ll Find a Way too.
My group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, has been singing African and American church music for many, many years, just like the Blind Boys. People say they love our singing because we sound genuine and authentic. We appreciate this because we sing what we feel. We love church music and it comes through in our voices. This is why I love the Blind Boys of Alabama. When I listen to them I hear the voices of people who believe in what they are singing. These aren’t just songs and words, these are emotions from within the spirit. These men have a deep faith and it comes through in their voices.
There is this passage in the liner notes, which were written by the album’s producer, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver: “One night as the recording went on, there was a knock at the door. Neighbors from up the road. A young girl and her father, the girl on the cusp of her teens. She knew nothing of the Alabamans. She stood in the shadow of a corner and listened. ‘Please,’ sang the man at the microphone, ‘please take me to the water,’ and on the way home, in the dark as snow squeaked beneath the wheels, the girl said, ‘I will remember this night for all my life.'”
I know just how she feels, and I’m an old man, I’ve heard my share. These voices burrow deep inside your soul, deep inside your mind. It’s simply gorgeous.
They do have some guest singers joining them here (including Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Merrill Garbus of Tune-Yards, Sam Amidon and Vernon) and I’ll be honest and say that I prefer when the Blind Boys sing by themselves. It seems that when someone else leads their songs the Blind Boys are relegated to being simple backup singers. I have some experience with this and I know it can cause you, as a singer, to hold back so you aren’t “stepping on” the lead. I think that goes on here on some of those tracks. I prefer to hear them just let loose on their own. That’s not to say those guest tracks aren’t nice to listen to. They just don’t have that “in your face” Blind Boys sound that makes a person raise their arms into the sky and say, “Yes, yes, hallelujah!!”
Great music should carry you away from where you sit, stand or lie while listening. I had to turn off my cellphone while listening, because I was “somewhere else” — mostly in a small Baptist church somewhere in the south of the USA. That’s an experience I have only had a couple of times. However, listening to the Blind Boys of Alabama takes me there. It’s a beautiful experience. I highly recommend it.
(This piece was translated into English by Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s manager Mitch Goldstein)