As with other social movements throughout history, music was used as a conduit for change during South Africa’s 46-year period of Apartheid. An entire generation of South African musicians boldly carried the anti-Apartheid message to audiences both at home and abroad, publicizing the oppressive living conditions that were being experienced by the majority of the country’s population. As one of its major focuses, the UBUNTU festival pays tribute to these iconic musical figures and ambassadors of freedom who sacrificed so much in the struggle for justice in their homeland.
Trumpeter, composer, and singer Hugh Masekela left South Africa in 1960 at the age of 21 to spend what would be 30 years in exile from his home country. Upon arrival in New York City, he immersed himself in the jazz scene where, under the tutelage of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, he was encouraged to develop his own unique style and incorporate African influences.
In 1990, Masekela returned to South Africa, following the end of Apartheid and the release of Nelson Mandela—an event anticipated in the artist’s anti-Apartheid anthem “Bring Home Nelson Mandela,” which had been a rallying cry around the world.
Opening the UBUNTU festival at Carnegie Hall, Masekela is joined by another iconic musical figure—Vusi "The Voice" Mahlasela—for Twenty Years of Freedom, a concert celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first free elections in South Africa.
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Renowned pianist and leading exponent of Cape jazz Abdullah Ibrahim also spent decades in exile, first leaving for New York City following the notorious Sharpeville Massacre of 1960. Returning to Cape Town in 1973, Ibrahim recorded “Mannenberg—Is Where It’s Happening,” which became an unofficial national anthem for black South Africans.
The late, iconic singer Miriam Makeba was known throughout the
world as “Mama Africa.” After leaving the country in 1960, the South
African government revoked her passport, denying her the ability to
return, even for her mother’s funeral. In the years she spent in exile,
Makeba performed throughout world, spreading the message of the plight
of her homeland.
In 1963, she became the first artist to testify about Apartheid at the United Nations. Not until 1990, when Mandela was released did Makeba return with Mandela's encouragement. In her years outside of the country, Makeba was clear that South Africa was still her home and her bedrock as an artist, stating in her biography, “I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots. Through my music, I became this voice and image of Africa and the people without even realizing.”
Grammy Award–winning vocalist Angélique Kidjo celebrates the life
and music of her mentor Miriam Makeba, in a performance with special
guests who include Makeba’s former supporting singers Zamokuhle “Zamo”
Mbutho, Faith Kekana, and Stella Khumalo.