On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps To Freedom

On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom tells the inspiring story of the group that introduced South African music to the world - Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Nominated for an Academy Award, this film recounts how a music affirming its deeply traditional roots has been passed down and popularized under the most hostile circumstances not only for South Africans but also for people everywhere.

Musicologists Sikhole Shange, Patrick Buthelezi and Angela Impeya trace the origins of Ladysmith Black Mambazo's music back to the oppression of the apartheid years. Zulu men, driven off their land, were forced to find jobs in the cities and mines, living in single sex hostels far from their families. To maintain contact with their homeland, they invented a kind of singing and dancing called isicathamiya, meaning "on tip toe" descended from traditional Zulu "stomping." In the city they added influences from American popular music - vaudeville, rag time, gospel, Doo Wop and rock and roll - to invent a unique musical form of resistance. Every Thursday night they staged competitions lasting into the next morning where for a few hours they could escape the depersonalization and degradation of daily life under apartheid.

Founded in 1964 under the leadership of the charismatic Joseph Shabalaba, Ladysmith Black Mambazo soon became the pre-eminent isicathamiya group in South Africa. But it wasn't until Paul Simon featured the group in his 1987 Graceland album and subsequent tour that their music became familiar to international audiences. Amazingly their hits soared to the top of the charts in both Britain and American, a unique achievement for a world music group. However when they performed with Simon in South Africa they violated the ANC's "cultural boycott." Shabalaba argues that by affirming indigenous culture and the dignity of the performers Ladysmith's music was an implicit act of defiance to the apartheid regime.

This beautifully made film follows the group from Johannesburg to London and Los Angeles performing such favorites as "Hello My Baby,""Nomathemba,""Paulina" and "Homeless." It has an unusually strong focus on the context out of which this music arose makes it an especially valuable resource for courses in ethnomusicology, African Studies and Popular Culture.

Additional information about Ladysmith Black Mambazo

South Africa - Overcoming Apartheid
Music and Popular Culture

Academy Award Nominee

"An informative look at one of the many South African musics that have sustained millions of black South African in their daily struggles and a moving portrait of one of the great South Africa musicians, Joseph Shabalala." -Viet Erlmann, University of Texas-Austin

"There's much historical footage, lucid chats with Paul Simon about his Graceland triumph plus a memorable all night singing contest in Durban. The mood is intimate, the sound compelling and the editing leaves audiences wanting more Mambazo."
- Variety

"Definitely recommended."
-Video Librarian

"Excellent photography, sound, and editing and the fascinating subject result in an exemplary production that is highly recommended for school and public libraries."
-School Library Journal

Producer: Leelai Demoz, Eric Simonson
Director: Eric Simonson
56 minutes, 2000

USA/South Africa

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