Many years ago, when I was a struggling writer, I wanted to write a story that took place in South Africa while it was under the Apartheid system. Despite all the research and rough drafts I did, I never completed it--the scope was too big for me and my young brain to comprehend.
But now, years after Apartheid has ended and the country of South Africa has been given its due respect--from carrying on the work of former President Nelson Mandela, to hosting the World Cup--I'm older and finally able to express my thoughts about what that country has gone through, albeit, not in written form, but through music. So in the first hour of this week's World Music Show (1/11/14), we'll celebrate the music and culture of South Africa.
Let's start first not with what you'll hear first but with the picture above of Johnny Clegg and Savuka. In the late 1970s and early 80s, when Apartheid (the legal racial separation of the Black majority from the White minority) was garnering more world attention due to many Western artists speaking out against the atrocities that were occuring daily in South Africa, Clegg and his band were breaking new ground as well as the law. How? Well, Clegg's band was multiracial, which was illegal in South Africa at the time. So the fact that Clegg and his bandmates were able to stand up against this law by releasing albums and playing (wherever they could), was a big deal. We'll hear his song "Scatterlings of Africa," which broke through the World Charts and helped Clegg and his band continue to break boundaries.
Paired with Clegg, and starting off the first hour will be a couple of songs by an even earlier trailblazer in the fight for racial equality--Miram Makeba. "Mama Africa," as she was called, Makeba was one of Africa's most beloved musical exports. However, she was also well known as a champion in the Human Rights movement, having to spend much of her career away from South Africa due to her banishment. In 1967 Makeba spoke to the UN about how the Apartheid system was tearing her country apart. She also garnered some controversy when she married Stokely Carmichael, who was at that time, the leadear of the Black Panthers. Feeling harassed by the American authorites and forbidden to return to her own country, Makeba fled for Guinea, where she lived during most of her career. In 1990, she was welcomed back by Nelson Mandela, who had been released from Prison that year. We'll hear two of her most famous songs, "Orlando" and "Pata Pata."
Speaking of Mandela, who this first hour is also dedicated to, we'll hear a couple of tracks from the long running band Ladysmith Black Mambazo (who by the way, are coming to RVA on 1/26!). Led by Joseph Shabalala, LBM have been playing together since the 1960s. The connection between them and Mandela is unique. At least I thought so after reading an interview with Paul Simon in which he spoke about LBM and the life of Mandela. Simon mentioned that after Mandela's release and after he had been President for a bit, he had the chance to meet Shabalala. No big deal, right? But as Simon put it, these two men were from different tribes--tribes who did not get along. And to Mandela's credit and power of forgiving and to his goal of uniting all of Africa, he put aside any differences he may have had and embraced Shabalala. That's such a great image to me. And as a nod to Simon, we'll hear one of my favorite covers of his song "Diamonds on the Soles of my Shoes," done by LBM and Melissa Etheridge and Joe McBride.
Other artists to check out in this first hour include: Phinda, Vusi Mahlasela, Brenda Fassie and of course Paul Simon. For Simon, we'll hear two versions of "I Know what I Know," one off of Graceland, the other of a great double live CD of when he took over New York's Central Park back in August of 1991. This was one of the first times that the musicians who Simon assembled for his Graceland CD--many of whom were South African musicians--got to play in front of American audiences. Simon, by the way, received a lot of negative press at the time of recording Graceland, because he was seen as going against many Western musicians, who were refusing to play South Africa (and rightly so).
Also featured in this half of the show will be a two-song listen to some Soweto Street Music, which has some really fantastic guitar sounds. The guitars here, at least to me, sound sort of like California surf guitar music. But, it's also the same sound that Simon captured on his Graceland CD (which you'll be able to compare, since they're all paired in the same chunk of music).
To close out the show, we'll hear from another Western artist who was an earlier protester of the Apartheid system. Through his song "Biko," Peter Gabriel was able to highlight the brief life of Stephen Biko, who was a leader in the anti-apartheid movement and who was later killed while in Police custody. We'll hear two versions of his song--one by Gabriel, the other will be a shorter version done by the Playing for Change organization.
Now, just because the first hour has been the main focus of this blog and of this week's show, I don't want you to skip out on hour two. Because if you do, you'll miss out on hearing new music from the legendary Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo, who just released a new CD called Eve and also has a new memoir called "Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music."
Other songs that will blare through your speakers in hour two will be tracks from: Michael Franti and Spearhead, Ziggy Marley and the Melody Makers, Tom Ze, Shabba Ranks, Cornershop and Beck, just to name a few. Plus, we'll hear a couple of classic Ska songs--one that was later redone by Blondie, and one that was originally done by Neil Diamond (and no, the cover is not done by UB40).
The World Music Show is heard Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. on Richmond’s Public Radio station, 88.9FM WCVE or online via this website. You can follow the show on Twitter, @wcveworldmusic.