“When we talk about music, we talk about our life.”
Music is My Life is the International Feature submission for South Africa. The film tells the remarkable true story of Dr. Joseph Shabalala, the leader of the Ladysmith Black Mambazo group. This documentary explores how this group became to be a worldwide sensation, performing in front of the Queen and Pope amongst others, and becoming Nelson Mandela’s favourite band. The film showcases Shabalala’s musical and spiritual journey to worldwide fame.
Joseph grew up amongst eight other siblings in a rural town close to Durban. Music was always a part of his life, spending time at church and then reciting the hymns when he got home. Over time, he discovered that he enjoyed all types of music and that every genre had a place in his soul. After his father passed away in 1959, he decided to head to Durban to pursue his music career. And around a decade later, his band was formed and his fame slowly started to grow.
Ladysmith Black Mambazo was thus formed and through his band, Joseph’s goal was to create music that would tell a story and that would uplift the people in his country. Every song had hope. The band members, which included his brothers and cousins, were so in sync when they sang that their sound was unlike anything ever heard before. They were like a ball of energy with so many different parts and voices and timbres, but they managed to give a blend like one sound, one unity.
They became the first black South African musicians to record an album. And while recording with Paul Simon, they became international stars. They collaborated with Dolly Parton, Michael Jackson, Sarah McLaughlin and so many other musicians. With Grammy Awards, worldwide tours, and more than 50 songs recorded, they were the biggest group in the world. As a self taught musician, Shabalala was awarded an honorary doctorate and professorship in music. But despite all the fame, he remained humble, always carrying a notebook with him ready to write another song.
All of the anecdotes and clips from the past are woven together to create this documentary, along with the gorgeous landscapes of rural Ladysmith, where it all began. The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree. For Dr. Joseph Shabalala, his resilience and strength forged him a path that allowed him to create a life involving his one and only passion, music.