World music talent comes no finer than that from the Shabalala family of Durban, South Africa. Sibongiseni and Thamsanqa Shabalala, form the core of this hot, maskandi act. Already singing with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo on a full-time basis, the two brothers met with Durban guitarist Maqhinga Radebe and started laying down some maskandi-style tracks.
Shabalala Rhythm was originally formed in 1998. "We started talking about it while we were on tour in America, when we discovered that we had a lot of time on our hands. When we got back home that year, we started rehearsing a few songs that I had written; the first song[s were] "Ubuhle Bakho" and "Intombi Ingalile. We rehearsed a few weeks and called Maqhinga to come and join us with his guitar. Later that year we recorded three songs as to just [test] how they sounded and then I wrote more songs. We kept working on them until we had ten songs all together-enough to make a CD and then we took them to the record company in 2000."
But is this a traditional maskandi album? Sibongiseni says, Me and my brother always sang with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. So we decided to do an album with maskandi, mixed with some mbaqanga and isicathamiya to see what we could come up with. We met Maqhinga through Mambazo. He had been chosen to come and play Maskandi guitar in a play that had been written about one of Mambazo's songs, Nomathemba. He had won maskandi competitions in the past, we started working with him in a play in 1995 so when I decided to try him out for my songs I already knew that he would be perfect." states Sibongiseni.
Producer Mthandeni Mvelase, who partnered with Sibongiseni, in the production of the album, joined them. He has worked with artists such as Jabu Khanyile, Mbongeni Ngema and many other renowned artists. "I chose him because I knew his style and knew he could add a more African sound to the album. It was great working with him, he added many great ideas to the album and he didn't want to change what we had."
The group's first album is called "Ubuhle Bakho," which directly translated means "Your Beauty." When asked about the inspiration for the name, Sibongiseni laughs, "It is not about a particular woman, rather about a man that loves his woman so much that his jealousy takes over when others look at her. The song recommends letting people be free, and if they love you and their heart is yours, they will stay with you. It's about men that think, because they are with a woman, they are the only ones who are allowed to appreciate her beauty."
Shabalala Rhythm did not stop making music as they recorded their second album Umaqondana (the perfect partner). The South African press warmly received their music with glowing reviews. In fact, "Ubuhle Bakho" had been nominated for the "Best Zulu Album" by the prestigious South African organization SAMA (South African Music Award). Their second album Umaqondana was also nominated for the SAMA in 2004.
When I grew up in my fathers house we always sang in the house. When my father had new songs that he had written he would come to us (me and my brothers) and teach us that song before he would take the song to his group LBM. When I started writing my own songs they would come to me in dreams as if my father were teaching us a new song. I would wake up singing the song and realize that this was a new song I had never heard before. Then I would write it down and keep singing it until I knew the song.
When we formed Shabalala Rhythm we didn't know what to call ourselves. I remember our first performance in Ladysmith it was seconds before we went on stage and we did not have a name, so our manager at the time decided to call us KZN Rhythms. That is when I realize that I should call the group Shabalala Rhythm in honor of my father who taught us how to create the music through his teachings.
In July 2005 we were invited to perform in Germany for the television program Tigerenten Club. In 2003 along with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Danny K, Shabalala Rhythm was invited to entertain at Nelson Mandela's home where he was hosting an event to honor Oprah Winfrey. Lately Shabalala Rhythm has been performing all over South Africa sharing stages with well known artists such as Hugh Masekela, Jabu Khanyile, SSQ, KB, Kabelo, Jabu Sithole, Deborah Fraser, Phuzekhemisi, Soul Brothers, Mfiliseni Magubane, Joe Nina, Coyote Steve Kekana, African Footprints and many more.
Recently we've been invited to perform at the celebration of our new South African President (President Jacob Zuma) at his home Enkandla. The latest release, Isikweletu, came out in November 2009 and has received great press reviews.