What: Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday.
Where: UTC's Fine Arts Center, corner of Vine and Palmetto streets.
Admission: $22 adults, $19 seniors, $15 students.
Venue website: www.utc.edu/finearts.
When the nine voices in Ladysmith Black Mambazo blend in harmony, the music is felt as much as heard.
Albert Mazibuko, 63, has been a member of the choir since 1969 when he and his brother, Milton, were approached by their cousin Joseph Shabalala. He told them about his dream for an a cappella group with a new approach to singing the music of their native South Africa.
"He said, 'I'm not looking for the singing you're familiar with. I have something new. I have learned a new way of singing and blending the voices and a new technique for developing this kind of music,' " Mazibuko said.
Like many in their area, Mazibuko had been singing at family gatherings since he was a child. At age 9, he formed his own vocal group, with which he entered and won regional competitions.
Despite his success as a musician, Mazibuko said he realized he was outclassed by Shabalala, whom he had long admired for his musical prowess and his skills as a stick fighter. He and his brother even auditioned to join Shabalala's earlier vocal group in 1967 but were rejected by the other band members.
That same group rejected Shabalala's plan as too technically ambitious, and while Mazibuko said he was intimidated by the prospect, he also was thrilled to work with his hero.
"It sounded so challenging, but we said, 'We're here. If you are going to be patient with us and teach us what you want us to do, we are here for you,' " he said.
From that foundation, Ladysmith Black Mambazo has become one of the preeminent ambassadors of African vocal music to the rest of the world.
They first achieved notoriety in the United States through their collaborations with Paul Simon on his seminal 1986 album "Graceland." Although they previously had released several albums, Simon helped them break into the Western market by producing their 1987 recording "Shaka Zulu," which won them the first of three Grammy Awards.
Thursday, Ladysmith Black Mambazo will perform at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga as part of the Patten Performances series.
Many of the songs in the group's 50-album discography are sung in their native language, but Mazibuko said the music has a power that transcends words.
"When we blend our voices, before even we convey the message ... the sound that we have has its own way to talk to people," he said. "The sound is most important in our music."