Ladysmith Black Mambazo, South Africa’s most famous a cappella ensemble, was founded by Shabalala’s brother Joseph, who still leads the group. Ben joined Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 1979, and spent the next 14 years recording traditional music known as isicathamiya, a gospel/pop mixture born in the mines of South Africa. Ben sang on Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album and on the group’s record, “Shaka Zulu,” which won a Grammy Award in 1987 for best traditional folk album.
Ben retired from the band in 1993 to spend more time with his family. He was shot and killed last Wednesday in Durban, South Africa; the case is currently under investigation. The Shabalala family has faced tragedy before. In 2002, Joseph Shabalala’s wife Nellie was murdered by a masked gunman. No one was ever convicted of the crime.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo is currently on tour to promote the CD “Raise Your Spirit Higher.” The group has announced plans to continue its world tour to honor Ben’s memory.
[Update – Nov. 22, 2004: Seven prisoners awaiting trials escaped from their Cato Manor police cells on Nov. 21. Among them were Gcolo Zuma and Themba Shazi, two men suspected in the killing of Ben Shabalala. Hijacking was alleged to be the motive for the murder.]