Shmed Maynes was too worried about technology to think much about the people coming into his studio on Monday. All he knew was that his Club Shmed Studio off South Russell Street had been booked for the afternoon by a group of singers from Africa, and they needed eight sets of headphones to use while they recorded.
Then they showed up and started singing.
“Dude, they sounded amazing,” said Maynes when reached Monday afternoon by phone. “And then I realized, it was those guys from the Paul Simon album.”
“Those guys” were Ladysmith Black Mambazo, the South African choir that has come to define the sounds of traditional African music for an entire generation of people in America and elsewhere.
Introduced to listeners in this country via Paul Simon’s 1986 smash hit album, “Graceland” – on which they played a prominent role in the songs “Homeless” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” — the tightly harmonized group has since appeared on “Sesame Street,” in commercials for Life Savers candy, on the soundtracks of “The Lion King” and “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” and in recordings with other giants of American music, including Dolly Parton, Stevie Wonder, and Ben Harper.
They’ve performed for the Queen of England, and at the Nobel ceremony when Nelson Mandela was given the Peace Prize. They’ve won Grammy Awards; and a documentary film about the group was nominated for an Academy Award.
The group is in town this week for a performance on Wednesday night at 8 p.m. at the University Theatre.
“I think most people don’t know that we existed a long time before we met Paul Simon,” said group co-founder Albert Mazibuko in an interview with the Missoulian in 2007. “When we met him, we had 25 albums already and had been very famous around southern Africa. But it was a dream come true to meet (Simon) because he introduced us to the world, to people who didn’t even know about the music if South Africa.”
That music, as purveyed by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, draws on a gloriously rich tradition of dense, multi-part male harmonizing, utilizing complex rhythms and modal melodies that lend the songs an exotic yet gorgeous character.
But it is not simply the songs that Ladysmith sings that have drawn an international following to the group. It is also the spirit that flows out of the eight singers as they perform. One doesn’t simply hear Ladysmith perform; the experience is something closer to communing with the group.
Maynes certainly felt that way on Monday as he listened to the group sing in his small studio.
“Their harmonies are so tight, it’s like one person,” he said. “And they’re super nice. I’ve never recorded anything like that before.”
Ladysmith Black Mambazo will perform at the University Theatre this Wednesday, March 24. Tickets are $31, available from Griztix.com and other GrizTix outlets.