Jazz Festival Pays Tribute to Late South African Singer Miriam Makeba

The Cape Town International Jazz Festival took place late last month and played out to a sold-out crowd of more than 30 000 people. The festival featured 41 bands performing on five stages over the two nights. This year’s festival also featured a special “Tribute to Mama Africa” – to remember the music of Miriam Makeba.



The Cape Town International Jazz Festival celebrated its 13th year at the city’s International Convention Centre.  It included a number of renowned American musicians such as James Ingram, Patti Austin, Lenny White, Allen Stone, Lauryn Hill and more. South African artists ranged from Hugh Masekela, Zahara, Lindiwe Suttle; Dorothy Masuka, Adam Glasser and Herbie Tsoaeli to name a few.

South African musician Hugh Masekela
South African musician Hugh Masekela

Trumpeter and singer Hugh Masekela, who also performed last year, teamed up with three South African vocalists - Vusi Mahlasela, Thandiswa Mazwai, and Zolani Mahola - to present a musical tribute to the late African songstress Miriam Makeba.

Hugh Masekela was the tribute's musical director.

"Two or three years ago," he said, "we were playing at a South African festival in Toulouse in France. There was a cross-section of South African artists for the whole week, and they asked if we could put an impromptu tribute to her [Makeba]. So we rehearsed it on the afternoon of the performance and it just took the whole place by storm. Then there were requests for it all over Europe."

After France, they toured Barcelona, London and Berlin, to sold-out shows, in 2011. This year was the first year the tribute to Miriam Makeba came to South Africa.

"The very first person to really bring South Africa to the world’s attention was Miriam Makeba,"  said Masekela. "She invented us most musicians of today. She gave her life and a very lucrative career to talk about the struggles of Africa.

"She raised money for liberation movements of schools, she sent me to school, she started  [the careers of South African musicians] Caiphus, Jonas Gwangwa’s and Letta Mbuli’s in the United States. There can never be another person like Miriam Makeba! Miriam Makeba is not only the patron saint of Africa, but there is no one individual that ever did as much for Africa as Miriam Makeba did."

The tribute covered Makeba’s classics like "Soweto Blues", "Meet Me at the River", "Pata Pata" and many more. Crowds who had packed the Kippies auditorium at the festival sang along to almost all the Makeba renditions.

This year's Cape Town International Jazz Festival included a tribute to "Mama Africa", the late legendary singer Miriam Makeba
This year's Cape Town International Jazz Festival included a tribute to "Mama Africa", the late legendary singer Miriam Makeba

Vusi Mahlasela is a South African musician who sings in various languages and formed part of this group paying tribute to the legendary performer.

"Miriam did quite a lot of things for us here in South Africa," he said, "especially connecting with the world and also was able to embrace that spirit of Ubuntu [“humanity” or “sharing”], by learning other people’s languages and even to sing their languages as well. I got quite a lot of inspiration from that. We have that African idiom that says: ‘motho ke pulelo’ – meaning ‘a person is a language’ and she did that and that is what I am also choosing that in my work – singing in various languages and all."

Miriam Makeba passed away on the 10th of November 2008. She last performed at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival in 2006 as part of her Grand Finale Tour.

The Tribute to Mama Afrika wowed crowds also audiences at the Jazz Festival and is set to continue touring across the world, celebrating the life of Miriam Makeba.


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