Brazil pays tribute to ‘Mama Africa’

2013-11-24 06:00

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Brazilians looking to get in touch with their African heritage have honoured legendary singer Miriam Makeba at a three-day music festival in Rio de Janeiro.

Makeba, who died in 2008, was banned from South Africa in 1963 after she spoke out against the former government at the UN in New York.

Brazilians marked the sixth annual Back2Black music festival in Rio last weekend with a celebration of Makeba’s music.

A short documentary on “Mama Africa” was screened before the start of the festival.

Makeba’s granddaughter Zenzi Lee and her son, Lindelani Lee, were among the festival’s performers.

Percussionist Papa Kouyate, who performed worldwide with Makeba for 22 years, played to “celebrate her”.

Other artists included South Africa’s Grammy-award winners Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Senegalese singer Ismael Lo.

Speaking in his dressing room, Kouyate fondly recalled Makeba’s influence on her band.

“We were her children. We had a cultural education?… ?For us, she lives. Miriam Makeba will never die. We work and give our spirit to Africa. That is what Miriam taught us.

“Africa is liberated, but it is not liberated economically. As long as we depend on others, we are not totally liberated. She always said we must continue the struggle.

“She had the weapon of the heart. It was not a gun. She used her brains to give a force against apartheid ... She loved South Africa. She wanted to get rid of apartheid,” he said.

Makeba only returned home in 1990 once Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Lee said she performed with her grandmother “for many, many years”. She was eight years old when she first took to the stage during one of Makeba’s performances.

Lee was born in exile in New York and now lives in Johannesburg. She said Makeba looked after her after her mother died at a young age.

“My grandmother’s gift to the world has been her social and cultural contributions, the humanity she shared with people, her love for arts and culture, African cuisine. She was in exile so she travelled to many countries,” said Lee.

“She would make food from different parts of Africa. She loved to cook. She would never make a meal and not make more than what was required.

“She would make sure that you would never leave her home without eating. She said when she grew up, her life was hard, so she vowed that even if she had a piece of bread she would share it. That’s how I was raised.”

Lee travelled worldwide with her grandmother. Her son also travelled with them and “grew up backstage”.

Lindelani Lee turned 18 on November 12 when he arrived in Brazil with his mother and other musicians for the Makeba tribute.

He said his grandmother’s “efforts moved our country” towards liberation.

“She let the world know about the injustices that South Africa was experiencing. She repeatedly said that she was not a politician. She just spoke the truth,” he said.

The Back2Black festival was designed to bring Brazilians closer to African musicians from the continent and its diaspora.

Brazil’s history includes the importing of slaves from Africa.

One of the festival’s younger artists, Mayra Andrade (28), performed at the event for the second time. Andrade is from Cape Verde, but lives and records in Paris.

Andrade said African musicians needed to perform in Brazil “to show them we are evolving”.

“Brazilians have a very old-style idea of what Africa is. They know about African religion and heritage.

“It’s important that Brazilians know where they come from and what Africa is today. And it is important for me to show that Africa is changing,” said Andrade.

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