Who still buys music in Africa?

music - "Mama Africa" ​​is still alive today

«Miriam Makeba opened doors for us with her fight for equality. She was one of the first artists to go abroad and bring South Africa closer to the world. This effect still exists today, without it we might not be here in Zurich. " This is what the two South African choreographers and dancers Chuma Sopotela and Mamela Nyamza say, who have just shown their productions at the Zurich Theaterspektakel.

In fact, the South African singer Miriam Makeba, who died in 2008, fought racial discrimination all her life. In return, she had to accept that many doors would close for her: As a young singer, she appeared in the anti-apartheid film “Come Back Africa” in 1957 and was present at the presentation at the Venice Film Festival. When she wanted to return to South Africa, her passport was declared invalid and she was denied entry.

Tireless denunciation of unworthy conditions

Six years later, she was the first South African artist to speak before the UN and called for a boycott of South Africa - in her very own way: with a somewhat soft and shy voice, but razor-sharp words. And when she married Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael in 1968, all of her planned concerts and record deals were canceled overnight. Again she had to look for a new home almost overnight.

Makeba spent her exile mainly in Guinea and Belgium, after all she had passports from nine countries. And she continued not to mince words when it came to the inhumane living conditions of the black population; whereby she meant not only her home country, but also the USA. The regime in the Cape remained all the harsher and continued to deny her citizenship. It was only 31 years later, after Nelson Mandela was released from captivity, that she was allowed to enter South Africa again.

Meteoric success

Her rise to star could hardly have been steeper: She spent the first six months of her life in prison with her mother because she had sold illegally brewed beer. She grew up in a township near Johannesburg and had to drop out of school to earn a living. She sang in school and church choirs and in various bands at an early age and was discovered by the jazz band "Manhattan Brothers", the most famous musicians in South Africa at the time.

So she came to the mentioned appearance in the film "Come Back Africa" ​​and founded the women's trio The Skylarks, which caused quite a sensation in her home country. The first big successes came in, she performed in the renowned New York Club Village Vanguard, Harry Belafonte noticed her and took her under his wing, then everything happened very quickly.

In her songs she mixed African songs with pop, but she also interpreted jazz standards or songs in Spanish, Portuguese or French. Above all, her two albums “An Evening With Belafonte / Makeba” and “Pata Pata” with the dance song of the same name made her world famous in the 1960s.

The power of music

Richard Butz, who taught at the St. Gallen Jazz School and organized concerts in Africa for a long time, has seen Miriam Makeba live several times. He explains her overwhelming success as follows: “This mixture of thrilling stage presence and political commitment came at exactly the right time. Almost no one could escape her erotic charisma. At the same time, a certain wave of Africa began to roll in, and people became more and more interested in South African music; likewise a black consciousness awoke. "

Her “supposedly inconspicuous music” quickly became very powerful, as Abigail Kubeka, member of the women's band Skylarks, relates: Because more and more people all over the world found out about the situation in South Africa in this way. That made Miriam Makeba “Mama Africa” from a young age, the voice of South Africa all over the world and a figurehead in the fight against racial discrimination.

Advocating a new way of thinking

Her message of liberation also had an impact in her home country. The South African jazz trumpeter Feya Faku describes it this way today: “Like Miriam Makeba, I grew up in a township in the simplest of circumstances. Listening to music was like therapy back then and Miriam Makeba's music and her voice made an enormous impression on me. I listened to their songs with my brothers and sisters, and that really awakened our political consciousness. "

What do young South African artists have in common with Miriam Makeba today? The choreographer and dancer Mamela Nyamza: «Miriam fought for a new way of thinking, for the idea of ​​freedom. I also fight in my pieces to ensure that new thoughts are accepted and that one does not stick to the same patterns over and over again. For example, the conventional theater in South Africa is still dominated by white men who are stuck in eternal clichés and still show blacks as violent. " Artists who no longer want to tell the stories that have been recited hundreds of times would find no recognition or support in South Africa. She, too, is forced to be artistically active outside of South Africa and thus to live in a kind of exile.

Still present in the mind

And what is the difference between the two and Makeba? Chuma Sopotela: «Your generation was primarily concerned with the liberation of the black population, both men and women were meant. Today I fight for the situation of women. My current play is about female experiences, personal ones, but they apply to all women in the townships. "

Both emphasize that Miriam Makeba is still strongly present in her mind, “like a mother”. A picture of Makeba as a young singer was recently auctioned off at Chuma Sopotela's home: “I really wanted that. But I've already been here in Switzerland, now someone else has snatched it from me. "

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