The founder of the South African music group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Joseph Shabalala, has died at age 78, the state broadcaster reported Tuesday.
Shabalala died at a hospital in the capital, Pretoria, Tuesday morning, his family confirmed to local media.
He is world-known for his leadership of the choral group founded in 1964 that shot to world acclaim, collaborating with Paul Simon on the album Graceland among others.
The haunting, often a cappella singing style known as isicathamiya helped to make the group one of South Africa’s most recognised acts on the world stage.
The South African government extended its condolences. “Rest in peace, you have fulfilled your purpose,” it tweeted.
We would like to extend our condolences on the passing of Joseph Shabalala who was the founder of the group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Ulale ngoxolo Tata ugqatso lwakho ulufezile. #RIPJosephShabalala [Photo: Flicker: Seth Gordon] pic.twitter.com/Sazg9hoWew
— South African Government (@GovernmentZA) February 11, 2020
The death was announced as the country prepared to mark 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. The group performed at several events attended by Mandela through the years.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo has won five Grammy Awards in its career, out of 17 nominations, most recently for best world music album for 2017’s Shaka Zulu Revisited: 30th Anniversary Celebration.
Shabalala received a songwriting credit along with Simon for the Graceland track Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes. The album itself would garner Simon five Grammys in various categories in 1986 and 1987.
Joseph Shabalala retired from Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 2014 but made occasional appearances at its events. He had been hospitalized several times since 2017.