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

Music is My Life – Joseph Shabalala and Ladysmith Black Mambazo, a directorial debut documentary feature produced by veteran filmmaker Carolyn Carewfrom Free Women Films and directed by Sowetan-born director Mpumi “Supa” Mbele, has been announced as the National Film and Video Foundation’s(NFVF) International Feature Film submission for the 96th Annual Academy Awards (2023 – Oscars).

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 since 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 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, was filmed over five years, traces his path from his humble beginnings in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa to his peaceful departure in 2020.

“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’smusic 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 fulfilling 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.”

“The KwaZulu-Natal Film Commission wish 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,” says KZN Film Commission Acting CEO , Mr Victor Senna.

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, 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 23 January 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.

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