midweek music: Joseph Shabalala, RIP

I first was introduced to Ladysmith Black Mambazo on Paul Simon’s brilliant Graceland album in 1986 — indeed, lots of people were introduced to this amazing South African a cappella band then, though they’ve been around since 1960. They sang with Simon on “Homeless,” which was co-written by Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala, and also on “You Can Call Me Al” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Simon later produced their album Shaka Zulu.

Simon promoted Graceland with a tour that included a bunch of South African musicians: besides Mambazo, he was also joined by Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba, as well as a backing band made up entirely of South African musicians, led by Ray Phiri of Stimela.

Joseph Shabalala retired from Mambazo in 2014, and yesterday he died in his home in Pretoria.

I named a Star Trek character after Shabalala, giving his name to the U.S.S. Odyssey first officer played by Michael Jace in the Deep Space Nine episode “The Jem’Hadar” in my novel The Brave and the Bold Book 1. Because that character was killed in the DS9 episode (my novel was a prequel to it), I kept the tribute going by putting his son Anthony Shabalala on the U.S.S. da Vinci in the Starfleet Corps of Engineers series as a tactical officer on the bridge.

Anyhow, here’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo singing “Amazing Grace.” I can think of no better tribute to Shabalala’s enduring musicianship, his glorious smile, his immense talent, and just the incredible joy he took in performing.

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