Home News Breaking news Joseph Shabalala, founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, dies

Joseph Shabalala, founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, dies

South Africa, and indeed, the whole of Africa, has plunged into mourning after the unfortunate demise of Joseph Shabalala. Shabalala was the founder of the famous South African choir, Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

The cause of Shabalala’s death has yet to be established. However, according to a band member, the icon died while in Hospital early in the morning of the 11th of February. The SA government confirmed the news through their Twitter account.

Joseph Shabalala founded the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir in the 60s. The band went on to earn worldwide acclaim and grew to become a favourite among many in the continent.

Early Life

Joseph Shabalala was born in 1941, in the town of Ladysmith, eMnambith District. Born to a family of six, Shabalala soon caught the eyes of Durban Choir owing to his ability to play the guitar and a wonderful singing voice.

He soon left the choir, after they rejected his new compositions.

He did not always want to be a musician though. Joseph revealed in a 2014 interview that he had wanted to be educated and become a teacher. Unfortunately, he would drop out of school after the death of his father when he was 12. He then went on to do odd jobs to get by, including working on the family farm and later, in a nearby factory.

The Black Ones

In 1959, Joseph Shabalala founded The Black Ones, after getting encouraging words from his hero, Galiyane Hlatshwayo. After the band began doing well in competitions, Shabalala then renamed the Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Mambazo meaning ‘axe’. This was in reference to how the choir won every edition of the isicathamiya competition.  In other words, they ‘cut down’ competition.

Lost his wife

Joseph Shabalala lost his wife, Nellie, in 2002 after she died in the hands of a gunman outside their home. Joseph hurt his arm too as he tried to protect his wife.

The group then paid tribute to Nellie in their next album, Wenyekule.

But that would not be the last time Shabalala would suffer tragedy. His brother and former bandmate, Ben Shabalala, also lost his life to unknown gunmen as he was taking his children to school.


Joseph Shabalala announced his retirement in January 2008. His youngest son, Thamsanka took over the reins as the leader of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo. However, he would leave active performance in 2014, a short while after performing at the Nelson Mandela memorial service.

Critical acclaim

Under Joseph Shabalala, the Ladysmith Black Mambazo rose to become a global force in the music scene. The group has won the coveted Grammy Award five times.

The group boasts of having worked with other global icons like Michael Jackson and country music heavyweight, Dolly Parton. They also reached number 15 in the UK charts.

Joseph Shabalala was a pioneer in the African Music scene and his death continues to elicit reactions from the world over.

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