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Walking Softly at Anthology

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There can be nothing like listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing un-amplified in a small room. Fortunately for San Diegans, Anthology's perfect sound and quiet atmosphere supplied the best possible alternative.

The members of Ladysmith specialize in a form of music called isicathamiya, Zulu for walking softly, and the translation could not be more appropriate. The music and singers' personalities are akin to sneaking up on your brother not to scare him, but to give him a massive embrace.

The music is nuanced -- and so quiet, in fact, that Anthology asked the audience to maintain complete silence throughout the show. It seemed like a tall order for a sold-out crowd, but as soon as the band took the stage, the audience gave Ladysmith their full attention.

For Ladysmith Black Mambazo, even after 50 years, peace, love, and harmony are still the important things to remember. Founder Joseph Shabalala and the eight-member group -- which includes four of his sons -- reiterated this theme throughout the night, even as they joked about South Africa's superiority over the U.S. Men's Soccer Team.

But for all the lightheartedness, Ladysmith's songs aren't necessarily warm and fuzzy. Consider "Homeless," a song they performed with Paul Simon on his 1986 classic Graceland. With harrowing lyrics like "Strong wind destroyed our homes/Many dead, tonight it could be you," it's easy to see why Shabalala believes that love is so important in a land where there is no shortage of suffering. Shabalala's pleas for peace are even more poignant considering that he has lost his wife and two former members of Ladysmith -- including his brother -- to violence.

Despite this, the show was uplifting. Each member of the group exhibited unbridled joy, while skits, teasing, and an overall sense of sincerity kept things interesting.

Isicathamiya is a soul-cleansing, harmonious kind of music, and truly a wonder of this world. The performance was our privilege.

T. Loper is a writer for the San Diego music blog Owl and Bear.

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