2008-01-01Even though the music on Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s Ilembe – Honoring Shaka Zulu is completely a cappella, you’ll never miss the lack of accompanying instruments. The South African ensemble fills each song to the brim, sometimes with voice and just as often with judiciously placed silence. Less boisterous than some of the group’s other albums, and more emotionally direct than its collaborations with western musicians, Ilembe is exactly as involving as you choose it to be. Give them slight notice, and these repetitive songs seem to provide little more than a lovely background. But close listening reveals ample complexity, from the subtly shifting chanted sections of the English-language hymn "This is the Way We Do" to the harmonic richness of the choral singing, or the way Joseph Shabalala's solo parts on "Vela Nsizwa" and other tracks sometimes feels like a lead vocal and sometimes like ornamentation. The repetitive arrangements have an appealing organic quality, like the musical equivalent of waves washing on the beach. This adds a meditative almost hypnotic quality to the songs. While "Prince of Peace" and a couple of other tracks are obviously religious in nature, even the political commentary of "Let's Do It" has beautifully modulated spiritual energy.-- Bob Tarte
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