Monday, December 11, 2023

Big Shoes to Fill: Mama Africa – Miriam Makeba

After years of searching, I finally found my brother from another mother, Joe Malatji in Melbourne, Australia. Such reunions are often overwhelming because there is so much to talk about. However, the one thing I was banking on from the start was to talk about music. And indeed, without missing a beat, he pulled a collection of his South African music books and the one that really caught my eye was The World Of African Song by Miriam Makeba, and the music is edited by Jonas Gwangwa. We spent quite a bit of time with him sharing its contents. Based on the table of contents, I could not resist but to place an order for my copy.

When my copy finally arrived, I went through it in detail. Of all the times I have known Miriam, I never really thought past her music and the quality of her voice. However, all that changed after reading her book. Yes indeed, a lot has been said about her political contribution and sadly, very little is ever mentioned about her contribution to music. Well, until Brenda Sisane sent me a message on Laura Kabasomi Kakoma’s Zenzile- The Reimagination of Miriam Makeba album due to be released on the 4th March 2022.

I welcomed the news with mixed emotions and a certain level of anxiety because I had no idea who was going to be featured on the album. This is not to say I underestimated Laura’s ability to do an amazing job. Afterall, her previous collaborations with the likes of Hugh Masekela have produced some of the best music to ever come out of South Africa. I admire Laura’s bravery to take on such a project – indeed big shoes to fill.

Well, as at the time of penning this review I had already secured a copy of the music the night of the release date. The uniqueness of Laura’s voice is what I would have chosen as my armament of execution of this mammoth task. Throughout this album every note sounds so perfectly blended. I have been wondering what Mama Africa’s reaction to this amazing tribute and reinterpretation of her beautiful music would be.

While I was waiting for the release of the full album, I could not help but think of what songs were featured but also hoping that the likes of Umhome were included. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for because it might just come true. Umhome is the opening tune. It is amazing how different musicians can listen to the same song and hear it differently. Sibongile Khumalo’s rendition opens with a bass solo before it is accompanied by the rest of the instruments. Laura’s on the other hand opens with a piano solo which makes it a sweeter and mellow melody. There are no words to describe the rest of the song except to recommend that you listen to it.

Never have I ever heard Pata Pata with a classical music touch. This caught me by surprise and the inclusion of Mama’s interview had such a profound effect, which made me realize that the power of words never expires.

When I saw Kwedini I laughed out loud because I have not seen nor heard this word spoken in ages. I just love how the addition of strings to this beautiful masterpiece makes a world of difference. I cannot guarantee if those who do not know Mama’s rendition will recognise this track. I just find it amazing how old music continues to retain its beauty regardless of how it is interpreted and Kwedini is a typical example.

Olili has always captured my soul and the way it is played here still has the same effect. The same applies to Lakutshon’ilanga. I guess this album would have been incomplete without Mbombela and Malaika.

If there was ever any other way to celebrate what would have been Mama’s 90th birthday, nothing would come close to this project. Thank you Laura for the gift of music and this tribute in particular.




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