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From newsdesk@igc.apc.org Wed May 24 18:42:00 2000
Date: Mon, 3 Apr 2000 21:48:28 -0500 (CDT)
From: IGC News Desk <newsdesk@igc.apc.org>
Subject: PROFILE-US/AFRICA: Mama Africa And The Pata Pata 2000
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Article: 92766
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Copyright 2000 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Women as Leaders Series: Mama Africa And The Pata Pata 2000

By Katherine Stapp, IPS
2 April 2000

NEW YORK, 31 Mar (IPS/GIN) - After a recording hiatus of almost 10 years, the internationally beloved South African performer Miriam Makeba is back with a new CD that celebrates the end of apartheid and her subsequent return home after three decades in exile.

Titled "Homeland," the album was produced by Cedric Samson on the California-based Putumayo Artists record label and contains both re-recorded favourites - like the dance tune "Pata Pata 2000" - and new songs.

Its release has been timed for two days before Freedom Day South Africa on April 27, which commemorates the extension of voting rights to all South Africans, and precedes a US tour this summer.

"I'm just happy to be back here again," said the petite, ageless singer as she spoke with IPS in a New York hotel room recently.

"I love the people and I know they love me... I'm not sweet 16 anymore, but I am looking forward to touring."

Having spent 30 years as an involuntary "citizen of the world" due to her outspoken criticism of white minority rule in her homeland, Makeba said the new album expresses her joy at finally being allowed to return to South Africa in 1990, and her hopes for the nation's future.

"The word homeland is special in South Africa," she explained. "They were trying to put us in corners, and we rejected that. Now, all of South Africa is my homeland."

The song "Masakhane," for example, calls for reconciliation and forgiveness in a nation still awakening from the nightmare of centuries of colonial exploitation.

"You help me, I help you, and together we build. We want to come together and build our country to make it the country that it should have been in the first place," she said. "That's 'Masakhane'."

The first African artist to take home a Grammy and break into the Top 10 charts in the United States, Makeba isn't worried about winning over a new generation of fans.

"I've never had a problem with generation (gaps) with my music," she said. "Just that name, people come, and they bring their children. Their children bring their children..."

Last May, she said, fans were turned away from the famed Olympia Theatre in Paris, even though she had not appeared live there in 12 years.

"There were teenagers, even little kids in the audience, and that is so beautiful when I see that kids want to come and see little old granny," said Makeba, who exudes a combination of warmth and self-possession. "And I look at them and say, well, my career has a much longer life than I do."

But despite her illustrious and wide-ranging career which includes three audiences with the Pope, more than five million albums sold, the Dag Hammarskjold Peace Prize, and an acclaimed autobiography - Makeba said she had difficulty getting a record contract until Putumayo came along.

"The conditions (for artists in South Africa) are not so great," she said sadly. "Some artists record and then - nothing."

"Before, we black artists in South Africa were never considered artists. We were vagrants," she continued. "It has to be done all over again, and I think that the present minister of culture and science is really trying to listen to the complaints of the artists and wants to do something."

The new CD includes songs in English, Lingala and other African languages. When asked if singing in English alienates any of her African fans, Makeba bristled.

"I always feel it's not fair to say that because we are African, we must not sing songs in English," she said, her soft, slightly scratchy voice rising with indignation. "The French came to Africa, the English came to Africa, they imposed their languages on us, if I can master it, why not?"

"I've always sang songs from my country. Even the songs I sing in English are not from anywhere but Africa. I've never sung a standard. So I have contributed to this English-speaking world songs they may never have heard," she said.

And don't get her started on the genre of "world music" (a phrase that happens to figure prominently in the name of her record company). "What is world music?" she asks. "All music comes from the world. So why are we world musicians, and others are not? Where do they come from? Jupiter?"

An outspoken activist as well as a singer, Makeba is currently the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation ambassador, and she works with various charities. Her latest project has been raising funds to renovate a home for street girls in a poor South African township affected by recent flooding.

But despite the continuing problems there, Makeba was optimistic about South Africa's future.

"If we can wait this long to vote, we still have to wait for many things," she said with a laugh. "Our new president is trying. And I think we must be praised for what happened. It could have been worse."

Makeba said the new CD was a celebration of both past victories and struggles still being waged.

"I've been around the world talking about the troubles and the suffering of my people," she said. "In that journey, I met a lot of people who raised their voices against injustice. And they helped me, which is why we are where we are today.

"I thank those people and I thank our mothers for their prayers. And I thank the children for their role in the struggle. I thank our leaders who have taught us how to be tolerant and how to forgive. For while we will never forget, we must forgive." (END/IPS/CE/ks/da/sm/00)


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