Hayden Horner
3 minute read
11 Feb 2020
10:45 am

Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala dies

Hayden Horner

The isicathamiya musician retired in 2014 and struggled with his health in recent years.

Joseph Shabalala.

On Tuesday morning, Joseph Shabalala, one of South Africa’s most prolific recording artists and founder of the multi Grammy Award-winning group Ladysmith Black Mambazo passed away.

Shabalala, 78, has been battling with his health ever since his retirement from the group about five years ago but his condition took a turn for the worse over the December period.

In a statement issued in January, the group’s manager Xolani Majozi confirmed that Shabalala had been admitted to hospital in December, in Durban.

“He was then transferred to another hospital in Gauteng. He’s not been feeling well and we plead with the community and all the South Africans to pray for the family of Ladysmith Black Mambazo and the Shabalala family as they are facing this situation.”

It’s since been confirmed that the Gauteng hospital is Life Eugene Marais, in Pretoria.

On its Twitter feed, the South African government confirmed the musician’s death.

“We would like to extend our condolences on the passing of Joseph Shabalala, who was the founder of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo,” adding in isiXhosa, “Ulale ngoxolo Tata ugqatso lwakho ulufezile [Rest in peace, father, your race is complete].”

Shabalala will forever be known as the South African artist who helped introduce the sound of traditional Zulu music to the world in 1986, when his group featured heavily on Paul Simon’s Graceland album.

Legendary muso Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse was one of the first local celebrities to express his condolences of Twitter, saying: “My friend… a giant, humble man, Joseph Shabalala, passed away this morning.

“My sincere condolences to his family and friends #RIPJosephShabalala Rest In Peace Joseph.”

Film producer Anant Singh said in a statement that he was deeply saddened by the passing of Shabalala.

“I had the privilege of working with him on the music of our film, CRY, THE BELOVED COUNTRY, and we remained firm friends over the years. As the founder of  Ladysmith Black Mambazo, he and the group flew the South African flag high in the international arena and took the indigenous isicathamiya form to the world.

“Both he and the group were justly rewarded, being recognised with numerous awards, including receiving the coveted Grammy Award on numerous occasions. With his roots as a son of KwaZulu-Natal, he rose to become a global musical icon. I send my heartfelt condolences to the Shabalala family and the members of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I wish them strength during this difficult time. “

The group is currently on tour in America.


  • The group was formed by Joseph Shabalala in 1960.
  • Despite their massive local following, the group gained international recognition after collaborating with Paul Simon.
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo holds the record as the African group with the most Grammy awards won (5).
  • They also reached number 15 in the UK charts with a cover of Etta James’ Swing Low Sweet Chariot, which they did for the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
  • The group is lauded as a mobile academy of South African cultural heritage through their African indigenous isicathamiya music.

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