Change for the better

Change for the better
Albert Mazibuko never imagined how much his life would change when his cousin, Joseph Shabalala, invited him to join his new singing group back in 1960. But over the past 54 years, the tight-knit family spirit that lies at the core of their South African ensemble, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, has taken them all over the planet and earned them four Grammys and riches beyond their wildest dreams. 
This Saturday, they’ll be performing at Caltech’s Beckmann Auditorium in a concert that will show that their rich body of work extends far beyond their classic collaboration with singer Paul Simon on the Grammy-winning 1986 album “Graceland.” According to Mazibuko, the venue is perfect for their music. 
“We are trying to spread a message that goes beyond the simple enjoyment of music,” says Mazibuko. “We want to elevate the spirit and the consciousness of our listeners, and Caltech is very receptive to new ideas.”
Joseph Shabalala formed the group as a means of breaking free from a humdrum life as a farm boy-turned-factory worker. He found that his cousin Albert was an eager recruit, as he sought to escape his own hard life working on his family farm from ages 8 to 15 and a subsequent job in an asbestos-making factory. 
While Albert joined Mambazo as a tenor, his brother Milton followed soon after as an alto singer. But decades later, Albert is the only original member, aside from Shabalala, who derived the name Ladysmith from his hometown, with Black referring to oxen, the strongest of all farm animals, and Mambazo being the Zulu word for chopping axe, a symbol of the group’s ability to “chop down” any person or group who would challenge their singing abilities.
“Our name was unique, but so was the music, because it came directly from my cousin’s dreams,” says Mazibuko. “He would wake up with the lyrics pouring out of his head, and then once he was done writing them down, he’d have the melodies float out of himself as well.”   
In fact, by the end of the ’60s they had surpassed the abilities of competing groups so much that they were banned from singing competitions. But they broke into radio play in 1970, leading to an extensive body of work that includes more than 50 recordings which are dedicated to preserving their country’s musical heritage as much as they are about entertainment. 
Mambazo was popular right from the start in their homeland, where they earned gold status for sales in South Africa from their debut album onward, through more than 50 albums to date. Many of those records document live shows at world-famous venues such as Carnegie Hall, drawing heavily from the fact the group tours more than six months each year. 
Mambazo focuses on a traditional music style called isicathamiya, which were songs that South African mine workers would develop as relaxation at the end of their punishing work schedules and then brought home to their villages. When Paul Simon was searching for a rich and unique style of singing as backup on his album “Graceland,” he fell in love with Mambazo’s mix of tenor, alto and bass harmonies and wound up creating a landmark album that introduced the group to audiences worldwide. 
“Graceland” won Album of the Year at the 1987 Grammy Awards and helped not only to introduce Mambazo to a global audience, but also to restore Simon’s reputation as a stellar songwriter, resulting in his biggest album sales in a decade. In 2007, “Graceland” was added to the United States National Recording Registry, along with another 24 significant recordings that year, and has been included on many “greatest” album lists created by prestigious magazines, including Time and Rolling Stone.
Since that breakthrough, Mambazo has recorded with such diverse artists as Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton and Sarah McLachlan and Melissa Etheridge. They have also performed in dozens of movie soundtracks. The story of their career was told in the documentary “On Tip Toe: Gentle Steps to Freedom,” which was nominated for an Academy Award. They have also been nominated for Tony Awards, and the group won a Drama Desk Award for its Broadway appearances. 
“We knew that working with Paul Simon would be a life-changing opportunity, as well as a world-changing one,” says Mazibuko. “He wanted to show the world that we’re all the same and can all unite through music, even in an officially divided country like South Africa. So much changed for the better as a result of that one record, because music is universal and it can change the world.” 
Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs at 8 p.m. Saturday at Beckman Auditorium at Caltech, 332 S. Michigan Ave., Pasadena. Tickets are $26 to $36, with $10 for youth. Call (626) 395-4652 or visit

Change for the better

Change for the better

Just a few years back, people interested in the development of electric cars were seen as part of the fanatical fringe of the Green movement, perhaps especially in Pasadena, where passion for electric vehicles runs especially high.

But that was before being green became not only trendy but also necessary and the future of EVs seemed dim.  
EV fever in Los Angeles was actually centered in Pasadena, at Caltech, as recently noted by Chris Paine, director of 2006’s “Who Killed the Electric Car?” and the new documentary “Revenge of the Electric Car.”

“The whole modern electric car era came out of Caltech. The EV1 was designed by AeroVironment (in Monrovia). They ended up with the Impact which became the EV1,” Paine commented in a recent telephone interview.

Produced from 1996 to 1999, the EV1 was the first mass-produced electric vehicle, yet the cars were available only for lease.  In 2003, GM recalled and crushed the cars even as former owners made vocal protests in Los Angeles.

As a former EV1 owner, Paine poured his anger into “Who Killed the Electric Car?” a diatribe against the oil and auto industries. As he explained, “My first film was not meant to bash any particular car company … GM led the lawsuit against California to kill that California mandate that brought these cars to market.”

While Toyota and Honda didn’t join, they did advocate a change to that mandate.

“The big tragedy was not only did they cancel the EV programs, but they destroyed the cars,” Paine said.
Of course, not all the cars were destroyed. Toyota spared its EVs, and that was a good move from a public relations perspective.

Toyota — not GM — took the lead in the hybrid market with its Prius, which now has a plug-in version. Oddly, Toyota isn’t part of the new documentary.

“We approached all the car companies … but Toyota and Honda didn’t return our calls,” Paine said.
Instead, the movie follows GM, Nissan and the new kid on the block, Tesla Motors, which was itself only possible because of the t-zero, an electric sports car developed at San Dimas-based AC Propulsion.

In “Revenge,” Paine follows four people for five years: former GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz; Carlo Ghosn, the current CEO of Japan-based Nissan; Elon Musk, co-founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors; and TV’s Reverend Gadget, Greg Abbott, whose series “Gadget’s Electric Garage” shows how to convert gas-powered vehicles to electric.

Lutz championed the Chevy Volt, and Ghosn the Nissan Leaf. During this time, both GM and Tesla turned to the federal government for a handout, while Nissan moved its headquarters from Gardena to Nashville, Tenn., and Abbott lost everything in a fire. How’s that for drama?

Moreover, the film shows “a fantastic turnaround for a generally slow-moving industry,” said Paine, where now change is happening from within the system.

“Experience changes people,” he explained, and “every car maker in the world except Ferrari and Lamborghini have an EV in the works.”

Even die-hards who were once skeptical, like Dan Neil, automotive columnist for the Wall Street Journal, are changing their minds.

“I love gasoline horsepower, but I’ve come to the conclusion that I’ll never buy another gasoline-powered car for as long as I live. The only way forward is electric cars,” Neil says in the film.

And that is truly the “Revenge of the Electric Car.”

Change for the better

Change for the better
Dear Patti,
My wife Wanda is having a difficult time getting through menopause. Luckily, she has a competent, responsive doctor she trusts and who I believe advises her appropriately as to what medical support, medications and supplements are needed to minimize her symptoms. Even so, Wanda is really having a hard time emotionally. 
At my urging, we met with her doctor together who explained that — due to hormonal changes — it’s common to have mood swings that, in part, are physiological. He also told us that sometimes there can be psychological reasons for these emotional lows and recommended psychotherapy. 
I’m not sure Wanda is clinically depressed, but she can become extremely sad. She’s a wonderful woman who has always taken care of everyone else, and it’s very hard to witness what she’s going through. I wholeheartedly support her going to counseling but how, specifically, can this help her? 
— Edward

Dear Edward,
Although menopause is a natural biological event in a female’s life, some women have a difficult time maintaining their feminine identity and sense of self-esteem when they experience the loss of fertility. Not only are there psychological issues, but there is cultural conditioning as well, in terms of commonly held perceptions and values ascribed to youth, sexiness and motherhood. The grief that you describe may stem from seeing this chapter as a serious ending to the various roles by which she has been defined throughout her life and marriage. It’s also not uncommon for this sense of loss to play directly into a fear of aging and being devalued by others.
Wanda’s therapy will support her to work through her feelings and to shift from a loss-based framework to a new definition and sense of self. Hopefully, she’ll then discard any attachment to destructive gender-role stereotypes and learn to not only respect and value the wise and mature person she has become, but to act on it with appropriate perspective, empowerment and vision. One therapeutic goal will be for Wanda to experience menopause as a transitional passage of development to a new and more liberating stage in her adult life. By striving to help her view menopause as a natural, normal process, her therapy sessions will allow her to challenge the negative beliefs about women growing older.
Compounding the biological and emotional adjustments inherent in menopause is the fact that women of this age are often taking care of dependent children as well as aging parents or grandchildren. In addition, they may be going through career changes or upheavals in their relationships. These high-stress scenarios often result in lack of sleep, fatigue, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and leave little time for recreation/relaxation activities and can exacerbate menopausal symptoms. Accordingly, another goal of therapy will be for Wanda to focus on her own needs and well-being rather than continuing to lead a hectic life of self-sacrifice in which she has traditionally taken care of everyone else first. It’s time for her to value her own physical and emotional health, professional or academic pursuits, hobbies or interests, dreams and desires. To that end, it may be beneficial to learn how to delegate responsibilities and set healthy boundaries so that other family members can assume some of the household burden.
Keep in mind that the women of today are in a much more favorable position than their ancestors — many of whom died prior to ever reaching menopause. A therapist can educate Wanda on the resources and options available to her. Given that a female’s average life expectancy is between late 70s and mid-80s, women will spend nearly a third of their lives postmenopausal. Not only does this mean they will live over 30 years beyond menopause, but they’ll also be more vibrant than ever before. 

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at 
(626) 584-8582 or email

Change for the better

Change for the better

Dear Patti,
I’m an independent woman and have always taken care of myself. I got married and had children late in life, and while I’m used to being self-sufficient, I didn’t expect to have to do everything for my whole family singlehandedly. My husband and I both work, yet when I get home he usually just sits around and expects me to fix dinner and get the kids ready for bed. As often as I request his help, he takes so much time that it’s almost too much work to keep asking. I’ve become bitter and resentful of his laid-back attitude and unwillingness to do anything unless he absolutely has to.

I have very few friends or time to cultivate any because all I do is work. His behavior makes me angry and I’m not sure how to get him to change. I’ve tried everything, from making schedules, reading parenting books aloud, lecturing and nagging, as well as taking him to couples counseling. Nothing has worked and I’m afraid I’m always going to be overworked and unhappy. Divorce or separation is out of the question.

— Maggie  

Dear Maggie,
When you’ve worked so hard to rely on yourself, it must be disheartening for life to become more difficult once you finally get a partner. I completely support doing all you can to make your marriage fair and satisfying and never want you to stop standing up for yourself. While there are parts of you that are strong and independent, however, let’s focus attention on the dependent part of you. It’s the reliant side that believes you can’t be happy unless he changes — “fix the broken husband” and then all will be well. Instead of counting on his behavior to change in order for you to be happy, I’d like you to find ways to make life gratifying that depend only on you. By writing the following six lists to support a new way of thinking, you’ll create contentment even if your husband is passive-aggressive or withholding.

1.    List 120 things you could do by yourself that feel good, such as playing your favorite music, singing, taking a scented bath, walking, gardening, getting a massage or keeping a private diary. Do things you’re passionate about and that you usually don’t do when caught up in resentment of your relationship. These can come to your rescue, especially when the one you love lets you down. Pick one a day no matter what.

2.    List 100 things you don’t normally do but that will keep you healthy — take vitamins, meditate, floss, jump rope for five minutes, eat a salad, or skip dessert. Pick one a day, even if you’re down in the dumps.

3.   List 80 activities that make you feel beautiful — buying a new lipstick or sexy lingerie, polishing your nails, visiting a hairdresser, or giving yourself a facial. Do at least one a week.

4.   Identify 60 interesting places to go — the San Diego Zoo, Brookside Park’s Rose Bowl Aquatic Center, Millard Canyon, the Old Mill, a spa, a movie theater, or a neighbor’s house. Try one a week.

5.   Write 40 things you’d do if you were a single parent who didn’t have help. Examples: Making a crock-pot meal in the morning for dinner that night when you’re tired, buying clothes that don’t need pressing, finding another parent to trade off babysitting or carpooling. Do one of them a week.

6.    Make a list of the 20 most important people in your life and email, write, text, call or visit each of them at least once a week. Maintain a strong, loving support system so you don’t feel so alone when your partner disappoints you.
Take your life into your hands and independently work on your own happiness. It wouldn’t be a surprise if under these circumstances your husband’s behavior changes for the better.

 Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has offices in Pasadena, Santa Monica and Canoga Park. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or visit

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