Last fall, Thomas Hampson was invited by CNN International to travel to a foreign locale of his choice to participate in the inaugural installment of a new series titled “Fusion Journeys”. This voyage of cultural discovery led Hampson to Durban, South Africa, where he met Joseph Shabalala and his male vocal ensemble Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The result of their remarkable encounter will air on the daily CNN news program Connect the World, beginning the week of April 16. The show airs on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 8:00pm GMT (check local listings for local airtimes).
Hampson’s interaction with the group, set against the breathtaking backdrop of the Valley of a Thousand Hills outside Durban, features the singers and their founder teaching Hampson a popular Zulu song, “Homeless” – perhaps the group’s biggest hit – while Hampson shares with them Stephen Foster’s “Hard Times,” one of the many American folks songs that Hampson has championed throughout his ongoing “Song of America” project.
Shabalala founded Ladysmith Black Mambazo in 1960, and it existed for 30 years under South Africa’s apartheid. The group rose to worldwide prominence after appearing on Paul Simon’s Grammy Award-winning Graceland album and has since won many other awards. Hampson, who has won equal acclaim on both the opera and concert stages as well as for his song recitals, recently performed the title role in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of Verdi’s Macbeth. He is currently in Germany giving master classes at the Heidelberg Lied Academy, where he is artistic director; the academy is part of the Heidelberger Frühling music festival and trains young singers in text-based song interpretation.
The idea behind “Fusion Journeys,” which is described by CNN as “part culture show, part travel show,” is to take an important creative personality to a place he or she would like to visit, and show viewers how this cultural encounter inspires him or her to create something new. Hampson – one of the six stars that will be showcased in the series between April 9 and May 18 – quickly makes friends with his South African hosts, and is clearly deeply moved by the experience of hearing their voices and their stories. “We are all musicians,” Hampson tells us, in one of the three approximately five-minute segments that will air. “Though we drink from different wells, we all swim in the same river.”