The term “world music” is a matter of perspective. In the United States, it’s applied generally to anything from outside the U.S.-U.K. pop culture axis.
“In South Africa, you know, music from America is called ‘world music,’” Albert Mazibuko, longtime tenor in the vocal group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, tells the Sun-Times from his South African home. “But, you know, now all music is world music. It doesn’t come from over there, from the ‘world.’ The world is everywhere.”
In the year ahead, that may seem truer than ever. From many corners of the world, 2012 may sound something like 1986, the year the world outside South Africa learned about the then-20-year-old group Ladysmith Black Mambazo, via a collaboration with Paul Simon on his Grammy-winning “Graceland” album.
The mid-’80s featured cultural crossovers from David Byrne & Brian Eno’s shortwave production of “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” through Peter Gabriel working with Senegal singer Youssou N’Dour or Lou Reed and Iggy Pop guesting with Yemeni-Israeli singer Ofra Haza.
That whirlwind of success also had its perks for Mambazo — one of which lead directly to the group’s latest album.
“ ‘Graceland’ did so many things for ourselves and for our country and for the world,” Mazibuko says. “We have collaborated with many wonderful artists since then. The one that always stands out for me is when we recorded with Dolly Parton. … Our wives loved her! She was their favorite. Even before we joined with Paul Simon, they were always putting on Dolly Parton’s music. It was great to meet her and work with her. After 30 minutes in the studio, she disappeared. Then she comes back with a totally different attire, head to toe. It was amazing. I thought, ‘Is this a fashion show or a recording session?’ ”
On Tuesday, the group releases “Ladysmith Black Mambazo & Friends,” a two-CD collection of collaborations stretching back to the 1980s. It includes “Homeless” and “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” from “Graceland,” as well as versions of both songs recorded with Sarah McLachlan and Melissa Etheridge, respectively. Others on the album include Des’ree (“Ain’t No Sunshine”), Taj Mahal (“Mbube”), Emmylou Harris (“Amazing Grace”), Natalie Merchant (“Rain Rain Beautiful Rain”), the late Lou Rawls (“Chain Gang”) and the late Phoebe Snow (“People Get Ready”). The set opens with “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” performed with Parton.
Last fall, Simon announced he would tour the “Graceland” album, with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, in 2012.
Also this year, former Blur and current Gorillaz front man Damon Albarn plans to spring several new globe-trotting sounds. In addition to touring Africa Express, Albarn’s jam sessions with U.S.-U.K. musicians and those from the nation of Mali, the debut recording is expected from Rocket Juice & the Moon, a trio comprised of Albarn, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and revered Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen (Fela Kuti). Parts of the album were recorded in Chicago.
Albarn also has hosted showcases in London for several international acts, including Chicago’s Hypnotic Brass Ensemble. This innovative horn band from the South Side — eight brothers, all sons of Sun Ra Arkestra trumpter Phil Cohran —released a new EP, “Bulletproof Brass,” a few weeks ago.
In Chicago, “Represent Africa” is a new monthly performance series, spotlighting “musicians and poets of African origin based in America.” Its second installment features Brooklyn-based Ghanaian rapper Blitz the Ambassador, Jan. 19 at the Shrine, 2109 S. Wabash.
Other collaborations we’re likely to hear more from this year include Touareg rock band Tinariwen’s new album (featuring, among others, Wilco guitarist Nels Cline), a Korean pop trio that’s already had a hit with Kanye West, more Japanese exports (from punk’s Okamotos to extra from X Japan), emerging R&B singer Emeli Sandé and many more.
Meanwhile, Ladysmith’s Mazibuko is looking to February for a repeat of the African group’s success at the Grammys on Feb. 12. “Songs From a Zulu Farm” (2011) is nominated for best world music album.
“I believe we’re going to get this one!” he says. “It’s in the world music category, and the world knows us now.”