(born Bhekizizwe Joseph Siphatimandla Mxoveni
Mshengu Bigboy Shabalala; 28 August 1941), is the
founder, lead singer and musical director of the
South African choral group Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Joseph was born in the town of Ladysmith (eMnambithi
district) in the
KwaZulu-Natal region of South
Africa. His parents, Jonathan Mluwane Shabalala and
Nomandla Elina Shabalala, raised Joseph and his six
siblings on a white-owned farm called Tugela. His
father died in the late 1940s; Joseph, being the
eldest, had to take care of the family. He left the
farm, however, in 1958 to search for work in the
nearby town of Durban.
During this time, he was spotted by a well-known
group, the Durban Choir, after he delighted
audiences with his smooth guitar playing and soprano
voice. When he joined the Choir, he attempted to
teach them some of his new compositions, namely his
first song Nomathemba (which was made into a play in
1995). They refused, and so he left them after only
In 1960, Joseph found an isicathamiya group, The
Highlanders, led by Joseph's hero, Galiyane
Hlatshwayo. Hlatshwayo was the man who encouraged
Joseph to use his voice powerfully. Joseph formed
his own group the same year, Ezimnyama ("The Black
Ones"). A series of dreams Joseph had in his sleep
in December 1964 was a major turning point in the
formation of the group; when he saw how well his
group did in the once-weekly isicathamiya
competitions, he renamed them Ladysmith Black
Mambazo, "Mambazo" meaning axe, referring to how the
group chopped down the other choirs by winning
almost every time.
After local radio airplay (on the S.A.B.C.
station Radio Zulu), Joseph accepted a recording
contract that was offered in 1972 by Gallo Music
producer West Nkosi. The group sold over 40,000
copies of their first album and continued to do so
through other recordings. In 1975, Joseph became a
Christian, and the songs in the Mambazo repertoire
were shuffled to one side to include generalized
Christian, Methodist, and Zionist hymns sung in the
In 1986, Paul Simon travelled to South Africa to
collaborate with South African artists for his
upcoming Graceland album. Simon collaborated with
Shabalala and the group, and co-composed the
now-famous song, Homeless.
The group's popularity spread all over
the world, and since then they have sold
records popular enough to earn platinum disc
certification. In 1987, the group won their
first solo Grammy Award for Shaka Zulu.
Since then, they have won one more and have
been nominated over ten times.
the worldwide success of Graceland, Joseph
began composing more songs in English.
On the night of 10 December 1991,
Joseph's brother and fellow member Headman
Shabalala was killed by an off-duty white
security guard near the town of Ladysmith.
The death of Headman Shabalala was thought
to be a racial murder.
Joseph, helped by his beliefs,
persevered, and the group continued - the
members now included Joseph's brother
Jockey, close relatives Albert and Abednego
Mazibuko, Russell Mthembu and Jabulani
Dubazana and Joseph's sons Sibongiseni,
Thamsanqa, Thulani and Msizi.
Nevertheless, tragedy has returned. In
May 2002, Joseph's wife of 30 years, Nellie,
was shot and killed by an unknown assailant
outside the couple's home in Kloof,
KwaZulu-Natal. Joseph's hand was wounded in
his attempt to protect his wife
The next album from the group, Raise
Your Spirit Higher, was expected to have a
solemn touch to it. Indeed it did, including
a tribute to Nellie by her grandsons
Gagamela and Babuyile Shabalala, encouraging
Joseph to carry on and that
"S-H-A-B-A-L-A-L-A will live on".
Six months after Nellie's death, Joseph
married Thoko Maduna, which was a
'controversial stunt', according to the
South African press. Despite this, Joseph
has managed to continue to carry on singing
and has even managed to set up the Ladysmith
Black Mambazo Foundation, a music academy to
promote and teach isicathamiya music to
young South African children.
Tragedy sadly struck again in June 2004
when Joseph's brother and former Mambazo
member Ben Shabalala was shot and killed by
an unknown individual whilst driving his two
children to school - and in February 2006
Joseph's only brother in the group by this
time, Jockey Shabalala, died of natural
causes at his home in Ladysmith, South
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