World & Latin

A Warrior For All Seasons

11 JAN 08 JOHN C. BRUENING

Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu is Ladysmith Black Mambazo's tribute to historical icon Shaka Zulu who unified the various tribes and peoples that ultimately became South Africa.

Every culture has a small handful of iconic and historically pivotal figures who embody the national identity. The U.S. has Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. In the UK, it's Elizabeth I and Winston Churchill (and maybe the original members of the Monty Python troupe). In South Africa, it's 18th century warrior Shaka Zulu. The album title Ilembe translates to "The Greatest Warrior," appropriately enough.

There's very little English among the lyrics -- even the track titles themselves are phonetic renditions of the Zulu tongue -- but there's buoyancy and optimism to these 12 songs that transcends the language barrier. The topics addressed are numerous as they are universal, and each of the tracks speaks to Shaka's rare combination of attributes and how they resonate in contemporary society -- not just for South Africans, but for the world in general. Nearly two centuries after his passing, his original messages of peace, unity, social harmony and national pride transcend their points of origin and resonate throughout the globe.

"There are still many people who need to be filled with the spirit of unity and hope that Shaka embodied," says Joseph Shabalala, lead singer and founder of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. "We are trying to remind people of the importance of what this man did. That was my purpose, to bring the people back to the roots of their culture."