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Review: Ladysmith Black Mambazo, The Sage, Gateshead

AFTER torrential rain on Tyneside, it’s a welcome relief to be transported to the South of Africa.

AFTER torrential rain on Tyneside, it’s a welcome relief to be transported to the South of Africa. Most people know Ladysmith Black Mambazo from their work with Paul Simon on Graceland or from the Heinz adverts.

But as last night’s concert at The Sage shows, just listening to the music misses out on a extra dimension to the band.

Ladysmith have been going for 46 years now and have seen a tide of change in their native South Africa.

They use their music, nine voices are the sole instruments, as comment. From the dark days of apartheid to the freeing of Nelson Mandela and then free elections, it’s a dramatic tale.

Changing music is also what keeps band leader Joseph Shabala inspired and he provides the songs and also the group’s members – four of them are his sons.

The music and performance is soulful and frequently joyous, whether traditional dance or ballad.

This, their penultimate gig of the UK tour, is a celebration and they get the crowd to join in with a football song. “It’s to help England win the football when you come to Africa in 2010 – and you can all stay at mine,” they joke.

For a band with members in their 60s, Ladysmith have the vibrancy and excitement missing from many groups in their 20s.

And the crowd at The Sage last night certainly had a sunnier disposition after a couple of hours of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, just right to cope with that rain.

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