Today, South Africa is mourning as the founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, has died at the age of 78. His cause of death has yet to be confirmed.

It is believed he died in a hospital in Pretoria, South Africa.

Shabalala was born in the town of Ladysmith in KwaZulu-Natal to parents Jonathan Mluwane Shabalala and Nomandla Elina Shabalala. He was raised on a farm called Tugela, along with his six other siblings. When his father died in the late 1940s, Shabalala – as the eldest son – was tasked with taking care of the family.

He had his humble beginnings when he was discovered by the Durban Choir in 1958 when he left Tugela for Durban in 1958, and found mild success there as he began to be known for his soprano vocals and skills in playing the guitar. Shabalala attempted to teach the choir some original compositions, namely his song “Nomathemba”, but left when they refused.

Shabalala formed his own group in 1959, called Ezimnyama or ‘The Black Ones’. A number of dreams in 1960 became known as the turning point for the group, and he renamed the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. ‘Mambazo’ means axe, and this was chosen to represent how the group would chop down other choirs and win each time they competed.

In 2015, he helped put together a show to celebrate 20 years of democracy in South Africa, which toured in the UK. “It has always been our mission to spread our South African culture as wide as possible, so it is very important for us to bring Inala to the UK and the rest of the world,” Shabalala said at the time.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo won five Grammy Awards under Shabalala’s guidance and was nominated for a total of 18 other awards. These include 16 Grammy Awards, one Academy Award and one Emmy Award.

Picture: Twitter

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She is a proud intersectional feminist, and is passionate about actively creating a world which is free of discrimination and inequality.