The founder of the South African multi-Grammy-Award-winning music group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, has died at age 78, the group and the government announced Tuesday.
Shabalala died at a hospital in the capital, Pretoria, Tuesday morning, his family told local media. He was globally known for his leadership of the choral group founded in 1964 that shot to world acclaim, collaborating with Paul Simon on the “Graceland” album and many other artists.
The haunting, often a cappella singing style known as isicathamiya helped to make Ladysmith Black Mambazo one of South Africa’s most recognized performers on the world stage.
The South African government extended its condolences. “Rest in peace, you have fulfilled your purpose,” it tweeted.
⚡️ “South Africa mourns its iconic cultural envoy: Joseph Shabalala” ??️??https://t.co/gnOiKl8w4C
— Abdur Rahman Alfa Shaban (@AlfaAfrican) February 11, 2020
Shabalala’s death was announced as the country marked 30 years since the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, which led to the end of the country’s brutal system of racial oppression known as apartheid.
“(Mandela) was a loyal follower of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, who had the distinction of being part of the cultural program at the Nobel ceremony where our founding president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize,” South Africa’s presidency said.
Shabalala retired from Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 2014 but made occasional appearances at its events. He had been hospitalized several times since 2017.
“The group (Ladysmith Black Mambazo) is on tour in the U.S., but they have been informed and are devastated because the group is family,” manager Xolani Majozi told local media outlet Timeslive. Majozi said the group would cut its trip short and return to South Africa.
“Our founder, our teacher and most importantly our father left us today for eternal peace,” the group said on Twitter. “We celebrate and honor your kind heart and your extraordinary life. Through your music and the millions who you came in contact with, you shall live forever.”