Monday, December 9, 2013

Recollection - Music from South Africa

Since last Thursday, December 5th, 2013, we have been mourning the passing of Nelson Mandela.  We have seen many of his pictures on television, read about him and listened to recollection of people who knew him or had met him.  It is a sad day for South Africa and for the rest of the world as it is difficult to say "goodbye" to such a great human being, but he will live in our hearts.

In many countries, including the United States and France, flags are flying at half-mast in tribute to Nelson Mandela.  I read that Archbishop Desmond Tutu asked the people of South Africa to unite in mourning as members of one family.  And indeed there was celebration for the life of Tata (father - the name the people have given him,) with singing and dancing in the streets of Soweto and other towns.  Listening to the music and songs of Soweto made me recollect all the years I have loved the music from South Africa.

Many years ago, when I was a teenager living in France, my teenage friends would listen to rock and roll or popular music but I listened to jazz.  As I mentioned in earlier posts one of the reasons I went to tour the United States was to listen to some good jazz, and I did (see my post here on San Francisco.) I was married on Saturday June 17, 1967 - that was the day one of my favorite jazz musicians was playing at the Monterey Pop Festival.  His name was Hugh Masekela, jazz trumpeter, composer and singer.  He was born in 1939 in South Africa but had left the country in 1960 because of the cruelty of the apartheid state.  In 1964 he had married another great artist from South Africa - the singer Miriam Makeba (they divorced later on.)  In the late 1960s I saw Miriam Makeba in concert in San Francisco,  Through her I started to enjoy listening to South African music such as Xhosa and Zulu songs.  I have several of her albums and CDs.  My favorite songs are "Pata Pata" and "Malaika."

Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) campaigned against the South African apartheid system.  The government retaliated against her by revoking her South African passport and her citizenship.  She was without a country.  In 1985 France made her "Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres" (Commander of Arts and Letters) and followed, in 1990, by giving her French citizenship.  After his release from prison, Nelson Mandela convinced Miriam to return to South Africa.  She went back using her French passport.  She was called "Mama Africa."  Nelson Mandela said "She deserves her title of Mama Africa.  She was the mother of our struggle and our young nation."

In 1987 Hugh Masekela wrote a song which quickly became a hit.  It was called "Bring him back home."  Nelson Mandela was a fan of Hugh Masekela and was successful in sending, from his cell, a birthday card to Masekela.  Masekela was so pleased and moved that he wrote this piece of music which became like an anthem for the people pushing for Mandela's freedom from jail.  I bought the cassette then and used to play it constantly in my car.  The song was in the cassette called "Tomorrow."  When I would stop my car at a red light, people hearing me sing about Mandela would look at me suspiciously.  Georgia is a conservative Republican state and at the time Ronald Reagan was president.  He had voted against the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act, a bill that called for sanctions and travel restrictions to South Africa and for the release of political prisoners, Nelson Mandela included.  The melody is joyful and upbeat.  I remember at the time, I had a red Fuego Renault 1982, and would have the cassette in the car and sing along, loudly, with Masekela.

"Bring back Nelson Mandela,
Bring him back home to Soweto
I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa - Tomorrow!"

When Nelson Mandela was released three years later, Hugh Masekela made a tour of the US and included this song in his repertoire.  I found out that in June 1990 Hugh Masekela would be performing in Atlanta at the National Black Arts Festival.  I certainly was going to drive to the streets of Atlanta to watch him.  My friend Charlotte agreed to come with me and so we went to Auburn Avenue, near the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center and watched the performance, free, on the street.  It was so much fun!  I may have been just one of a very few white people there but the celebration, the singing, the camaraderie around us was unbelievable.   I took some photos with my film camera, they are not very good, but they give an idea of what it was like.

 Masekela played "Bring him back home" and all of us sang and danced with him.

In March of 1988 a team from Safair, a South African cargo freight airline came to train in my company.  I was the customer trainee coordinator then.  I had never met people from South Africa and was a bit apprehensive.  They were very nice and friendly - we did not talk politics, of course.  Here they are below at a restaurant - one of them had brought his wife to tour the US after the training.  They invited me to come and visit them in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where they lived.  I told them, maybe in several years.  I'd like to go now.

In 1988 a South African musical called "Sarafina!" premiered on Broadway in New York and closed in 1989 after 597 performances.  It was nominated for the 1988 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Original Score, Best Choreography and Best Direction of a Musical.  It is set in South Africa during the 1976 Soweto riots.  A demonstration started by high school students protesting apartheid ends up into a brutal scene with many students killed by the police.  The music is uplifting though.  It shows how the teenagers are standing up for freedom, how they hope for better times and their inspiration in Nelson Mandela.  It is moving and cheerful at the same time.  It was written by Mbongeni Ngema with additional musical numbers by Hugh Masekela.  The musical came to Atlanta at the Fox Theatre.  My husband and I went to see it - the audience was 98% African-American - I wished the audience had been more diverse to listen to this musical celebrating human rights with great music and choirs.  I bought the cassette and played it often.

Hugh Masekela celebrated his 74th birthday earlier this year.  Last year, on July 18, 2012, he played for the 94th birthday celebration of his friend, Nelson Mandela.  He played again "Bring him back" with the Graceland Band and slightly changed lyrics.  So much has happened since I purchased my cassette in 1987 (I am surprised that it is still in a good enough state to listen to it...)  Freedom has come to South Africa, because of Nelson Mandela and also because of the help he received from all those exiled South African artists keeping apartheid and the oppressed in the international public eye and ear.

I have been listening to all my old cassettes and CDs on the music of South Africa.  I am sorry that my music recollection came about because of the passing of Nelson Mandela.  Our world is going to be poorer without him.

"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." - Nelson Mandela

So let's celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela.  Let us try to bring more justice and equality in the US and other parts of the world.  He said:

"Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity; it is an act of justice.  Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural.  It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.  Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great.  YOU can be that great generation.  Let your greatness blossom."  and    "While poverty persists, there is no true freedom."  N. Mandela.

The fight against poverty is difficult, especially in our highly indoctrinated country.  Negative and attack ads paid by billionaires and corporation lobbyists bombard the airwaves and television channels (owned by large corporations, too) against helping the poor and only for the benefit of the uber wealthy.  Some of the lowest wages are paid by many of the richest corporations in the US.

 "His day is done,
is done.
The news came on the wings of a wind, reluctant to carry its burden.
Nelson Mandela's day is done.
The news, expected and still unwelcome, reached us in the United States, and suddenly our world became somber.
Our skies were leadened.

His day is done ... No sun outlasts its sunset, but it will rise again and bring the dawn.

Yes, Mandela's day is done, yet we, his inheritors, will open the gates wider for reconciliation, and we will respond generously to the cries of Blacks and Whites, Asians, Hispanics, the poor who live piteously on the floor of our planet.

We will not forget you, we will not dishonor you, we will remember and be glad that you lived among us, that  you taught us, and that you loved us all. "  
Maya Angelou, American poet


Elephant's Child said...

Such a moving post. Thank you so very much.

DJan said...

This is a wonderful tribute to a wonderful man. The world needs more like Nelson Mandela. I am fortunate to have a movie about his life that will play at our independent theater next week. It was already scheduled before he died. Thank you for your very fine post, VB.

Geo. said...

I remember much of what transpired in the years you mention, but from the confusion and insularity of American culture. Thank you for bringing these events together with such clarity and focus. I learn here.

Roger Gauthier said...

Rebonjour, la Vagabonde ! :-)

Mandela et Makeba, deux personnes exceptionnelles qui ont su s'élever au-dessus des passions ordinaires. Puissent-ils ne jamais être oubliés.

Tu savais que plusieurs sheriffs dans le sud des États-Unis ont refusé d'abaisser le drapeau ? Ils ont de belles théories, mais la vraie raison, c'est le racisme.

Anonymous said...

❀ ❀ ❀
Merci chère Vagabonde pour ce bel hommage à cet homme exceptionnel !
Un exemple !
Il a fait tant et tant de choses pour préserver la paix !

Encore merci à toi.
❀ ❀ ❀

David said...

Vagabonde, It is indeed sad to lose such a great and inspirational leader... It is even more sad because the current leadership in South Africa is not particularly forgiving, crime is rife and AIDS is widespread. We have a long way to go to achieve Mandela's dream, not just in South Africa, but in the world! Take Care, Big Daddy Dave

Cloudia said...

Thank you! I have been longing for the music!

from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral

Kay L. Davies said...

It's getting late, and reading this wonderful tribute to Nelson Mandela and his people...well, it has me crying. I'm going to read it again tomorrow, and listen to the music.
(I've always loved Miriam Makeba, too.)

claude said...

Coucou Vagabonde
J'ai du mal depuis mon retour de Martinique. Il fait tellement froid ici que j'ai le cerveau gelé et très lent.
J'aimais bien Myriam Makeba et j'aime bien aussi le Zoulou Blanc, Johnny Clegg qui dansait des danses zoulou avec ses frères noirs.
J'ai regardé un reportage sur Mandela à la TV, Très bien fait, et superbement narré par mon présentation du journal préféré. C'était très émouvant et cela m'a tiré les larmes des yeux.
Très beau post, Vagabonde.

✿France✿ said...

Bonjour bonjour et merci de parler de cet HOmme un homme qui avait un si grand cœur et qui voulait que le peuple soit égaux et que la vie soit plus calme
UN Homme qui a marqué notre histoire pourtant cet Homme aura souffert pendant de nombreuses années
BISE et bonne journée

Miss_Yves said...

Beau billet, de circonstance, sous un angle original: la musique et la liberté d'expression.
Oui, Myriam Makeba était très appréciée en France dans les années 60. C'est justice qu'elle ait été faite" chevalier des Arts et Lettres"
Dans les années 80, J Clegg a eu également une large audience en France

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

What I see on TV is that even though there is sadness about Nelson Mandela's passing, there is little mourning, but more celebrating that he lived. He would be happy and smile at that.

Mae Travels said...

Wonderful collection of memories! I saw Mandela in Paris, when he was leading a rally near the Palais de Chaillot just after his liberation from prison in 1989 or 1990. All the people were singing a traditional freedom song, I don't know which one.

Did you ever listen to the public radio program "Afropop Wolrdwide" with Georges Collinet, a French-speaker from Cameroon? He introduced me to a lot of African music. I'm not sure if it's still on radio.

Vagabonde said...

Yes, yes, I know Georges Collinet – I went to Africa with him once. I listened to Afropop on the radio in Atlanta for years until they stopped it, but it can be listened to online. I’ll go on your blog to talk about it. Thanks for the comment.

Jeanie said...

I think the whole world is mourning. What a beautiful and eloquent tribute to such a remarkable man. The African music has its own wonderful sound -- thanks for highlighting so much of it.

Mae Travels said...

Thank you, Vagabonde, for the very interesting links. I hope you eventually do write about your trip to Senegal.

Magic Love Crow said...

Such a beautiful, moving post! Thank you ;o)

Al said...

He was a great man and his passing is very sad. I may need to start exploring the music of South Africa.

Unknown said...

merci pour nous faire partager cet hommage à ce grand homme qui a marqué l'histoire de son pays et qui est connue du monde entier ..
c'est un tres beau post
je te souhaite un tres agréable mercerdi

Vicki Lane said...

What a wonderful post to honor Mandela! I have long be a fan of Makeba and of Masekela --wonderful music. said...

A very well written post Vagabonde.
I grew up and lived in the time that Mandela was in prison.
There was lots of sensorship at that time ..
I have great admiration for a man of truth and conviction that Nelson Mandela had.
We can talk about him now after his death.. but he suffered greatly , as did all black people in S.A ..
I was 11, when I first went to see Miriam sing.
she became our icon.
I love African music.. I grew up with it.
thank you for sharing your the happy days you remember.
xxx val

OldLady Of The Hills said...

Such a BEAUTIFUL tribute to this remarkable human being....Such a loss to all of Humanity! But, it was his Humanity that shown like a beacon---leading us all in the direction of being a loving and caring people---Always an example of The BEST in Human Beings.
I LOVED what Maya Angelou said.....!
I remember Mirium Makeba and Hugh Masakela so very well---I too loved their music. And it was great to hear the pieces that you included in this post.
A Lovely Lovely Rememberence, my dear.

Catherine said...

What an interesting and moving post. We need to be thankful for the people who change our world for the better and Mandela was a giant.

Linda said...

What a lovely and touching post. I just love the photo of Nelson Mandela holding a dove. He had such a positive and loving spirit and a handome, kind and gentle face. He will be sadly missed for a very long time to come.

Arti said...

Thanks for a timely and most informative post. I love the personal touch too. You know, it's after Mandela's death do we know so many have associations with him, or South Africa on a personal basis. e.g. Only now do we know that the premier of our province (Alberta) Alison Redford was in a team of legal consultants working with Mandela to establish the legal system of SA during the 1990's. On another topic, yes, I've seen Philomena, will write about it hopefully soon. And 12 Years A Slave is a must-see. Here's my review. You're welcome to share your thoughts after you've seen it.

kaykuala said...

Vagabonde Ma’am,
I wish to apologize for my late response to your comments at my blog. I now make amends by coming
over here. I have done a ‘copy and paste’ of your comments earlier at my blog and my responses to them to make it easier to read.

Your comment #1
I saw your comment on Comfort Spiral and you standing in front of the Eiffel Tower in my home town, so I came for a visit. You do ask a difficult question. I saw your profile but you did not say where you lived – do you live in France? I miss my country and now that my mother is no longer there I don’t fly there twice a year like I did, so it is not easy – I get homesick and I like to speak to people who are still over there.

My response:
It is so nice of you to drop by. Yes, I was in Paris but I was just a visitor then. It was an old picture. I don’t stay in France nor do I speak French. I’m from Malaysia. The fact that I got over to Paris was itself a dream come true. And I got to see Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo at the Louvre. It was such a thrill. We saw the Champs de Elysees, Notre Dame cathedral, Palace of Versailles among others. And we passed by Joan de Arc’s statue from a moving bus. So much to see in so little time. I too will get to be homesick if away for so long from such beautiful places.
Hank on A Burning Question

Your comment#2
Sorry English is my 3rd language, so here we go –
Donc une déclaration dead beat Délivrant un démélé délicieux Et bien,
c’est du bon boulot! Avec un badinage basculant!

I think you speak French, no? , by Vagabonde.

My response:
Therefore a statement, dead beat.
Issuing it goes along delicious and well it is a good job!
With a tilting banter!

No, I don't Ma'am. But I get the idea with the help of google translate as given above. Merci!
Hank on Dastardly Delinquent - A Huitain

Thank you!


Nadezda said...

It's touching, Vagabonde!
Great tribute to Great Man!

Ruth said...

Thank you for sharing your long history with South African music. I learned a lot about musicians I didn't know. This must be a very poignant time for you.

In Pasadena in 1980 I had an opportunity to attend a 4 week class with South Africans — white and black. I witnessed many heated discussions among them. It was hard to understand how they couldn't listen to each other openly, without hurt and anger. So when Mandela accomplished what he did, with that special, extraordinary vision for reconciliation and forgiveness, I understood (a little) how remarkable he was.

Ginnie said...

It just amazes me to hear all you have experienced in your lifetime, Vagabonde. I don't think there's anything of significance that hasn't touched you in some way somewhere with a memory you can personalize.

I watched the Mandela service here on CNN and then especially loved hearing Maya Angelou recite her poem on a video I found. We are a better world because of them both!

Reader Wil said...

Very beautiful tribute to this great man!Thanks for your photos and videos.Thank you for your comment.Last week I couldn't write on my blog as I was on holiday. I am back for a few days but have to organize a lot before leaving for Australia.
I wish you a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
Wil, ABCW Team

Kay said...

Thank you so much for the beautiful post. I remember Miriam Makeba from my college years. We've been dancing to Pata Pata at Zumba and I didn't even realize it until I listened to your video. Wow!

Mandy Southgate said...

I love this post! Thank you so much or writing it. I love that you love our music - did you see the post I wrote earlier this year on jazz and protest in Newtown, Johannesburg? It is there if you click on the South Africa link in my header. I love pantsula music with its penny whistles and jive but I love jazz too.

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