If there's an a cappella singing group anywhere on the planet performing popular music with more gorgeous harmonies, shimmering arrangements, or soulful swing than Ladysmith Black Mambazo, I wish somebody would send me a tape. Best known in this country as the vocalists that put much of the grace in Paul Simon's Graceland album, this South African ensemble has earned its enormous native popularity with a series of albums featuring lavish, richly textured singing set against tastefully understated production. Leader Joseph Shabalala's compositions send traditional Zulu spirituals and stories through a staggering set of variations that blur surface distinctions between "melody" and "rhythm." The chorus tends to swoop and soar around the lead vocal until it settles on a lyrical passage to work into a heavenly near-trance. With Simon's sympathetic production and major-label backing from Warner Brothers, Ladysmith's new Shaka Zulu is a worthy successor to the group's two striking albums on Shanachie, Induku Zethu and Inala. The new album has the added advantage of both English language songs and printed translations, but you don't have to know the words to feel the heat; Ladysmith is the sort of group that could turn a reading of Wall Street Week in Review into joyous flashes of ecstasy. Tonight, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 472-0449.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ethan Russell.