"It isn't merely the grace and power of their dancing or the beauty of their singing that rivets the attention, but the sheer joy and love that emanates from their being," Paul Simon enthused in the liner notes to the album "Ladysmith Black Mambazo: The Warner Brothers Collection."
For decades, South Africa's Ladysmith Black Mambazo has charmed audiences worldwide with the intricate rhythms and sweet harmonies of their native musical traditions.
This heavenly sounding choir draws on the traditional acapella singing style called isicathamiya (pronounced is-cot-a-ME-Ya), that traces its origins to Zulu men who labored under harsh conditions in South Africa's mines and factories. Singing at night, they called themselves "cothoza mhana," tiptoes guys, referring to dance steps choreographed to not to disturb camp security guards.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
The concept of the group came to founder Joseph Shabalala in a series of divine dreams. "When I go to bed, I dreamt the music. A choir was singing to me," he recalled in a Maui News interview. "This invisible group from heaven, the power was amazing. I called them children of God."
The group galvanized world attention in the mid-1980s, when Paul Simon incorporated Black Mambazo's harmonies into his "Graceland" album. He then produced their first U.S. release, "Shaka Zulu," which won a Grammy in 1988. They won another Grammy in 2009 for "Ilembe: Honoring Shaka Zulu."
In 2010, the group released the two-disc compilation "Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Friends," featuring collaborations with artists such as Dolly Parton, Simon, Emmylou Harris, Sarah McLachlan and Melissa Etheridge.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Castle Theater at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. Tickets are $12, $28, $38 (plus applicable fees), available at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
Joseph Shabalala would finally retire from his group. On Jan. 23, 2008, Shabalala issued a statement on this.
"Ladysmith Black Mambazo is a mission, a mission to spread our message and to keep our culture alive and known," Shabalala announced. By touring, we have wanted to keep South Africa alive in people's hearts."
Maui musician Bob Jones has just released an album dedicated to Michael Bloomfield, one of the greatest electric guitarists of all time. An impressive homage to a blues legend who influenced countless players, "Michael and Me" features Jones accompanied by an ensemble of Maui musicians performing songs that he used to play as a drummer and vocalist with Bloomfield back in the 1970s.
"A lot of the material we did with Michael in the '70s on stage was extremely exciting, but it was either poorly captured or not at all," Jones explains. "And then in the studio we'd often not do that material, or do it poorly and throw it away.
So there was a backlog of material that I sang that Michael played on that never really got preserved. It always bugged me. When I started playing with Nils (Rosenblad) on Maui, we'd do a bunch of that material, and he would say how great it was and that we should record it, and do a Bloomfield retrospective."
The result is an exceptional recording that spotlights the genius of Bloomfield, captured through Rosenblad's amazing guitar playing and Jones' powerful, soulful singing.
It was Bloomfield, a young, white guitarist from Chicago, who played on Bob Dylan's groundbreaking "Like a Rolling Stone," proclaimed the No. 1 song in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Top Songs of All Time.
Interviewed by the magazine in 2009, Dylan reported: "The guy that I always miss was Mike Bloomfield. He had so much soul, and he knew all the styles, and he could play them so incredibly well."
And it was Bloomfield who basically created the extended guitar jam, with his landmark, Indian raga-influenced composition "East-West," performed with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1966.
Living in San Francisco, Jones met Bloomfield at an impromptu jam in 1969, and within days was singing and drumming with the blues legend, including a gig captured on the album "Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West," hailed by many as one of the greatest live blues album ever released.
"When we met, I really didn't know anything about him, but I was blown away by what he could do," Jones recalls. "He could play rings around anybody. He was a genius. Now I look back and wonder how I could have been so lucky to have this education in the blues."
Performing with the guitarist for 10 years, Jones toured all over the U.S. and Canada, including playing the Newport Jazz Festival, and recorded five albums, on which he played drums, guitar and sang.
During this period he also recorded with other blues greats including Mississippi Fred McDowell, Nick Gravenites, Sam Lay, Harvey Mandel, Otis Rush and Taj Mahal.
But it was as a lead guitarist with the folk rock group We Five that he first came to prominence, when they scored a No. 1 hit song in 1965 with "You Were On My Mind."
Born and raised on Oahu, Jones had been playing with a Ventures cover band before he headed to school in San Francisco and soon joined We Five.
"I was in one of the seminal folk rock bands, catching planes with girls screaming and trying to tear my clothes off," he recalls. "I thought I'd died and gone to heaven."
Subsequently learning to play drums, he then played with the R&B band Southern Comfort, and later teamed with Bloomfield.
Moving back to Oahu in the '90s, he led Bob Jones and the Hard Drive, and then continued with a version of the band on Maui. In recent years he's performed with Vince Esquire, the VooDoo Suns, the Howard Ahia Band, the Gina Martinelli Band and collaborated with Suns' guitarist Nils Rosenblad as a duo.
Jones was initially a little hesitant to take on a Bloomfield retrospective. "I didn't want to go back, I wanted to go forward," he explains. "I tussled with it for a year, and then we finally started recording and it was enormously successful. I think it's the best work I've done since We Five."
Besides Jones and Ronseblad, "Michael and Me" features Tim Hackbarth on bass, Gilbert Emata on keyboards, Greg Marsh on drums, John Zangrando on sax and Matt Velzy on harp. Star guests include veteran drummer Jimi Bott, who played with the Fabulous Thunderbirds; vocalist Nick Gravenites from the Bloomfield & Friends band; and keyboardist Mark Naftalin, who played with Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield.
"We got a great team together," Jones notes. "Nils really internalized Michael's spirit. He's like a musical child of Michael and carried it forward. So for me it's like a dream come true."
The Maui guitarist shines throughout, igniting many tracks with his fiery playing that channels Bloomfield's magnificence, even referencing the improvisational spirit of "East-West" on the track "Raising Cane."
Songs covered range from Bloomfield favorites like the stomping "Minglewood Blues" and his anthem, "Guitar King," to the slow-burning "Blues on the Westside," which was originally recorded on "Live at Bill Graham's Fillmore West." Then there's the funky "Backroad," composed by Jones, of which he says: "I just really wanted to write a James Brown-style song. Mike loved to play it."
Bob Jones and The Drive will perform songs from the new CD from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday at the Kiwi Roadhouse on Lipoa Street in Kihei. You can catch Bob on Mana'o Radio (91.5FM) playing his favorite music from 2 to 5 p.m. every Wednesday.
And finally, with pop superstar Elton John heading our way it's time for The Top Ten Reasons to See Elton (on Maui).
10. How many opportunities do we have to see a British "Sir" perform (who was asked to dance by the Queen of England at a party)?
9. You don't have to fly to Vegas to see him at Ceasars.
8. He loves Maui and vacationing in Wailea.
7. He brought Leon Russell back into the spotlight last year with the Grammy-nominated collaboration "The Union."
6. We'll see him before he performs at the Royal Wedding in April.
5. He created the best selling single of all time, "Candle in the Wind 1997" - dedicated to Lady Di- which sold more than 37 million copies.
4. It's the Greatest Hits Live tour - all your favorites at one time.
3. He's playing with his band including guitarist Davey Johnstone who has worked with Elton since "Madman Across the Water" - and only playing Maui.
2. Where else in the world could you have a more beautiful concert backdrop than Iao Valley?
1. It's Elton, it's the grand opening of the MACC's new Yokouchi Pavilion/stage, and it's the show of the year!
* Elton John and his band bring his Greatest Hits Live tour to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Yokouchi Pavilion for shows at 7 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25. The Feb. 25 show is sold out, but at press time, tickets, priced at $77, $97, $152 and $252, plus applicable fees, were still available for the Feb. 24 show, on sale at the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.