Saturday, November 08, 2014 | Zanj Radio
Legendary South African singer and political activist Miriam Makeba (March 4, 1932 – November 9, 2008) was celebrated on Wednesday night in a spirited musical tribute at Carnegie Hall. Dubbed “Mama Africa”, Makeba’s moniker, the concert was headlined by iconic Beninoise singer and activist Angélique Kidjo. She shared the stage with special guests Ezra Koeing, lead singer of the New York-based band Vampire Weekend; Vusi Mahlasela, South African singer and poet-activist known as the “The Voice” in his home country; Laura Mvula, British soul singer-songwriter; and Faith Kekana, Stella Khumalo, and Zamo Mbutho, Makeba’s supporting singers.
“Oh my gosh! I am 73, so it was like seeing Miriam Makeba all over again! It was fabulous!” raved an appreciative patron, Florita Smith.
The homage was opened by actress and activist Whoopi Goldberg, who recounted first seeing Makeba on television alongside Harry Belafonte in the 1960’s and being struck by how her beautiful voice and presence challenged the singular ‘home of Tarzan’ image of Africa Golderg had been exposed to up until that moment. She then welcomed Kidjo to the stage to perform Mbube, one of several Makeba classics that comprised the majority of the evening’s set.
“Welcome to the world of Miriam Makeba!” Kidjo declared, before digging into her seasoned vocal reserve and unearthing a passionate Saduva. Her bright orange and green dress complemented the fiery energy with which she stomped her heeled boots into the stage and shook her shoulders.Kidjo served as an emcee of sorts, dispersing tidbits of information about Makeba, whom she credits as her role model, when introducing songs or her fellow performers. She explained that South African men would sing the breathy Jol’inkomo before going into war with the British, and that when she told Makeba she loved the lullaby Lakutshn Ilanga, the latter suggested they co-record lullabies from various countries and give the collection to the United Nations, with the instruction that a lullaby from a country be played to those who are about to invade it.
Ezra Koenig’s gentle voice captured the delicate essence of Lakutshn Ilanga. Laura Mvula shared her original Father Father, “a beautiful song about love and sorrow,” according to Kidjo, and a nod to one of Makeba’s many life challenges—losing her father as a child. An upbeat Vusi Mahlasela smoothly delivered Makeba’s trademark The Click Song.
“Mama Africa: A Tribute to Miriam Makeba” was reverent and alive. The celebratory vibe climaxed when Kidjo led all the performers in Afirika. “I wrote this song and dedicated it to Miriam, because we were both worried about the state of the world,” she explained, adding that as long as there is culture, music and people with big hearts, the world will be okay. She urged the audience to join in singing “Ashè é Maman, ashè é Maman Afirika!” “I know we’re at Carnegie Hall, but that doesn’t change me!” she declared, before marching off stage and through the Hall. The audience stood, clapped, sang, and danced along. Many brandished their phones to capture the memorable moment.
“We used to listen to Angélique Kidjo for decades and thought it would be her music, but this turned out to be even better!” said Adrienne Paule from Manhattan’s Upper East Side, whose friend had nudged her to attend the tribute. On the other hand, Brian Kwoba did not know of Kidjo before Wednesday night; he had come, out of curiosity, to catch the last performance in Carnegie Hall’s month-long Ubuntu series, a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa. “I came down from Columbia University. It was very positive, very good energy. I liked how she brought a lot of different artistes from different places, with different kind of voices. It was very multi-cultural, multi-ethnic in that sense.”
Florita Smith from the Bronx was eager to talk about her concert experience. “I heard about it on WBLS on Gary Byrd yesterday. I had my niece from South Carolina go online and get me a ticket on parquet floor because they said the show was sold out and there were three seats left. I got one of them and I am so very happy!” Although she enjoyed every moment of the show, she most loved watching Vusi Mahlasela be “so very light on his feet.”
Smith continued, “Of course, the mistress of ceremonies, Miriam would have been very proud of her because she delivered in her spirit.”