UCT commemorated the life and legacy of Miriam Makeba as part of its Africa Day celebration.
The university hosted a two-part panel discussion and live performances by the UCT Big Band, at the Baxter Theatre, on Thursday May 26.
The morning kicked off with a panel discussion on the role of Swahili for the integration of Africans. This was followed by a sampling of various African dishes.
For the second half, UCT Big Band celebrated Makeba, or Mama Africa as she was affectionately known, through song.
Singer Dr Letta Mbulu, singer-songwriter Judith Sepuma and journalist Nikiwe Bikitsha spoke about Makeba’s life and how a trip to America ended with her being exiled from South Africa.
They also reflected on the role she played in taking African music to the world as well as telling other parts of the world what was going on in South Africa. The discussion was led by jazz vocalist, composer and educator Nomfundo Xaluva-Dyantis.
Dr Mbulu said Makeba had encouraged her to go to America, and watching her perform one night had changed her life and made her realise that she wanted to change lives.
“The way she spoke about her people, how she used her platform to raise awareness of what was happening in our country and how she moved people through song, are things I learnt from her.”
Ms Sepuma said she had performed many of Makeba’s songs at the Baxter, during her student days.
“Makeba was a gracious singer, and her presence came through even in pictures. What I learnt from her was that it was not just about the song but being present in your performance.”
Ms Bikitsha said Makeba had been the soundtrack to many childhoods.
“In her story-telling, she was able to bring across a sense of urgency – something very few artists can do. She was singing songs about our country while also experiencing what she was singing about. She was truly a remarkable talent.”
Singer-songwriter Thandiswa Mazwai, who is currently in New York, sent a recorded video clip in which she said Makeba had taken the stories of Africans all over the world and made their stories valid.
“She created music that not only soothed but had political context. She took our languages and experiences and shared it with the world.”
Makeba, who died in 2008, would have turned 90 this year.