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Ladysmith Black Mambazo doc heads for Oscars

Music is My Life’ has been named as South Africa’s official submission for the International Feature Film category of the 96th Annual Academy Awards.

Music is My Life – Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo has been announced as South Africa’s offical submission for the International Feature Film category of the 96th Annual Academy Awards, the Oscars.

National Film and Video Foundation (NFVF) has put forward the directorial debut documentary feature produced by veteran filmmaker Carolyn Carew from Free Women Films and directed by Sowetan-born director Mpumi “Supa” Mbele.

It is the first documentary selected for the Oscars since South Africa began submitting films for nomination in the International Feature Film category in the Annual Academy Awards in 1989.

Shining a spotlight on Ladysmith Mambazo’s frontman, the legendary Joseph Shabalala, the film explores his rise to international fame with his iconic isicathamiya acapella group. The big breakthrough followed their musical contributions to Paul Simon’s award-winning album Graceland, which went on to sell over 20-million copies and win a Grammy for Best Album.

Music is My Life, filmed over five years, traces Shabalala’s path from his humble beginnings in rural KwaZulu-Natal to his peaceful departure in 2020.

Carew said: “As a team, we worked tirelessly with the band, Baba Joseph’s family and the Dr Joseph Shabalala Foundation to tell his story. To be in his presence was to be left in awe of his deep commitment to his craft, informed by his love of music, the land, his spirituality, and his dedication to bring his unique as well as the powerful voices of Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s music to the world.”

Director Mpumi Supa Mbele said: “Shabalala’s achievements place him in the pantheon of African musical superstars. This film takes viewers on his spiritual and emotional journey.” 

South African Public Broadcaster SABC 1 flighted the documentary in 2023, helping to ensure a wider audience of millions of fans who loved and admired Joseph Shabalala. Music is My Life screened at the Labia Cinema for seven days, including what would have been Shabalala’s 83rd birthday in 2023. It has been selected for several local and international film festivals in the United States, New Zealand, Australia and Spain, among other. 

The official nominations for the 96th Annual Academy Awards will be announced on 23 January 2024. 

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