MAMA AFRICA MAKES HER FAREWELL
Singing and weeping with Miriam Makeba
Two marvelous concerts in Havana
BY MIREYA CASTAÑEDA
Granma International staff writer
MIRIAM Makeba is all strength, in her words, her look, her voice. With delicacy and supreme humility she has embarked on an extensive international tour to say farewell to audiences that have applauded her for several decades. Thus she has come to Havana for the third time.
"I am 73 and I have been in many countries. I feel as if I am a little tired. My heart wants to go on, but my bones are not letting it. I decided that I should return to those that I have visited, those who applauded me to thank me and Adios Makeba!
That is the simple and emotive (and humorous) explanation that she g
ave in a rarely emotional exchange between the diva and journalists, which included Makeba's gift of two songs, acapella, naturally; one in English: "I Walk Alone" and the other in her native language.
She gave two concerts (October 6 and 7) in the Astral Theater which, needless to say, were unforgettable and magisterial. It was an extremely brief tour of her repertoire, which included, since she cannot get away from that theme, the famous "Pata pata."
"It was a dance of the time in which couples mutually touched each other. In Zulu touching is pata. I still don't understand why it was such a success. For me, it one of the most insignificant in my repertoire. Now I can't stop singing it."
As she predicted in the press conference, the public sang and wept over her themes. It is because the inspiration for her songs is her people, her country South Africa, all of Africa.
She revealed a fine irony when she was asked for musical definitions. "I don't believe that there would be rhythm
without Africa. Now we are called World music, and I ask myself, where are the rest from then? We are all of the world. In real terms they want to say Third World music. It's the same as when they called us underdeveloped countries and now courteously we are in development. That's how it is."
She is asked if she sings jazz. "I don't know what jazz means. I am asked what kind of music I make and I say I sing music. When I went to the United States, they called me a folk singer, then a jazz singer. I have been at jazz festivals, and soul festivals. So I don't know what I was singing. So I sing what I have always sung."
Fidel is a moment apart. Are you going to sing to him? Would you like to?
"I was fortunate enough that Fidel attended my concert in 1978 and I have always boasted about that. He is a star on my chariot. Who wouldn't be excited about singing to Fidel?"
Once again, Makeba, out of her commitment to the finest causes, sang to the Cuban president. She generously offered two
songs during the event paying tribute and in remembrance of the victims of the Barbados crime (29 years ago) and the recently assassinated Puerto Rican patriot Filiberto Ojeda.
Various questions over and above art.
"Cuba? I am sorry that I do not speak Spanish although I am a Cuban citizen. I am very gratified to be here again, after the first time in 1972. For me it was a great honor to be in Cuba when I was not allowed to return to my country. Cuba was and is very important to Africa. It has helped us a lot. We still have no way of repaying everything that it has given us. I think that in time, we will be able to give it as much as we have received."
Racism in New Orleans? "I wasn't in the United States but we saw it when Katrina hit Louisiana and aid wasn't immediately received. Those people who didn't have a car couldn't leave, thousands of others in a stadium. It was very painful. I don't know if it was racism or not, but the aid was certainly delaye
Makeba announced that she has agreed to take part in a CD to be recorded for fundraising for the victims of that hurricane. "I sang in Los Angeles recently and a band that had managed to get out of New Orleans played there. They asked me for one or two songs for a CD being recorded. My group and I said yes, we were ready to contribute in that way, the only way we have."
Goodwill ambassador for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)? "I'm not the only one. There are many of us ambassadors, Gina Lollobrigida, Gong Li, Gilberto Gil. We should find the time to do what is needed. I am also involved in helping the victims of antipersonnel mines. We recently brought artificial legs, crutches and wheelchairs to Mozambique. Uganda and Rwanda are also in the program, and Angola in the future."
After the tour? "I am going home to look alter my grandchildren and attend to the Makeba Center for Girls, a home for girls that I have opened in South Africa."
The text of the song that she
spontaneously gave us in the Havana Press Center talks of how many people she has around her, of how she sings alongside them. That is how it has always been for the great South African diva, on the stage or off it. The world gives thanks to Miriam Makeba.
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