national Arts Festival Banner

Monday, October 23, 2023



Filmmakers jubilant as documentary Music is My Life secures SA submission for Academy Awards.

The people of KwaZulu-Natal, and in particular eMnambithi/Ladysmith, can celebrate the news that the South African documentary Music is My Life – Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, has been selected as South Africa’s submission for the Best International Feature Film for next year’s 96th Academy Awards (Oscars).

The film is the directorial debut documentary produced by veteran filmmaker Carolyn Carew from Free Women Films and directed by Sowetan-born director Mpumi “Supa” Mbele.

This is the first time a documentary has been selected since South Africa began submitting films for nomination in the International Feature Film category in the Annual Academy Awards in 1989. Bringing a nomination or award home would be a fitting conclusion to the film about the life of the legendary leader of the country’s most iconic isicathamiya acapella group, which hailed from Ladysmith.

(Below) Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo GettyImages-118237134)


Shining a spotlight on Ladysmith Mambazo’s frontman, the legendary Joseph Shabalala, the film explores his rise to international fame with the group following their musical contributions to Paul Simon’s award-winning album Graceland, which went on to sell over 20 million copies. Music is My Life, filmed over five years, traces his path from his humble beginnings in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, to his peaceful departure in 2020. Along with footage from the Graceland recording sessions, the film introduces us to many luminaries who worked with Shabalala, including Dolly Parton. The film also documents the complex history of Isicathamiya music – the musical idiom whose boundaries he helped to expand – regarding the political and musical forces that helped to form it.

(A young 
Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo Archival photo)

“We are humbled to be selected by NFVF selection committee to represent SA at the 96th Academy Award in the International Feature Film section,” says the film's Lead Producer, Carolyn Carew. “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.”

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

“Thanks to all the stakeholders for their hard work and dedication to the fulfilment of this dream. I salute them,” says Thoko Shabalala, Joseph’s wife, who features in the film.

Ms Thobela Mayinje, NFVF Acting CEO says, “It is always a great and privileged opportunity to have a South African film represent the country at the global industry’s foremost awards. The fact that this particular film tells the authentic South African story of the iconic Dr Shabalala, is even more special.”

Mr Victor Senna KZN Film Commission Acting CEO, adds: “The KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission wishes to congratulate Ms Carolyn Carew and the team for documenting this important work done by the son of this province, the legend Dr Joseph Shabalala. KZNFilm is proud to have supported this amazing project and note that this Academy submission will enable more people to witness the beauty of the KZN Province; the rich culture and tradition through this film.”

South African Public Broadcaster SABC 1 flighted the documentary on August 28, 2023, helping to ensure a wider audience of millions of fans who loved and admired Joseph Shabalala had access to the film in a celebration of his life. Music is My Life screened at the Labia Cinema for seven days, including what would have been Dr Shabalala’s 83rd birthday in 2023.  It has been selected for several local and international film festivals in America, New Zealand, Australia and Spain, to name a few.

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

The film was made possible by the National Film and Video Foundation, the National Empowerment Fund, the KwaZulu-Natal Film, the SABC, Gallo Music SA, the Department of Competition, Trade, UK Tax Credits, Sky ARTS and ZDF/ARTE and Industry and Dr Joseph Shabalala Foundation.