Miss N

A South African Music Takeover in NYC

With the Chicago Marathon done and dusted, my attention turns back to focus on the wonderful Ubuntu series that has taken over New York City, most specifically, Carnegie Hall.

The opening night reception was lovely – it was already going to be an incredible evening with just the lineup alone, but to sit inside the hallowed space of Carnegie Hall and listen to Vusi “The Voice” Mahlasela and Hugh Masekela bring their songs to an American stage, with special guests, was beyond what I’d hoped it would be.

Backed by a supremely talented band – Mongezi Ntaka on guitar, Bakithi Kumalo on bass, Ian Herman on drums and Francis Fuster on percussion – the evening was a trip down South Africa’s memory lane. Earlier this year, Masekela performed some of these songs for his 75th Birthday celebration at Dizzy’s at Lincoln Center. But, as Bra Hugh told us, he’d always wanted to perform with Vusi, and this night in New York City allowed him to. They complemented each other marvelously – Bra Hugh adding his trumpet to Say Africa and Vusi strumming along to Bra Hugh’s US hit Grazing in the Grass.

Having Dave Matthews join them to perform two poignant and pivotal struggle songs was among the night’s highlights. So many of my American friends still don’t know that the singer is South African, having been born in Johannesburg, before moving to the US in the 80s. He geeked out on stage, as he took his place next to Bra Hugh and Vusi, and told us he grew up listening to drummer Ian Herman’s band Tananas (great band!)

Dave added his signature voice to Johnny Clegg’s Asimbonanga and Bright Blue’s Weeping. Both songs are enough to bring tears to any South African’s eyes, but to hear them so far away from home, within the pristine walls of Carnegie Hall was something extra special. Singer Somi brought out her African roots as she performed a version of the late Miriam Makeba’s love song Malaika that made me quiver in my seat.

The following night, the younger set – Simphiwe Dana, Tumi Molekane, The Soil – took over the Apollo for a show I missed, while carbo-loading in Chicago. From the NY Times account, seems it was a memorable one too.

The music and the memories continue this weekend. Jazz pianist Abdullah Ibrahim takes to Carnegie Hall on Friday night, and on Saturday multiple Grammy winning, Mean Girls-mentioned group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo will shake things up with their ‘isicathamiya’-style vocals, together with guests Thokoza and the Bakithi Kumalo Band. They’ll be playing a special kids-friendly show on Sunday, and Ibrahim will also play a free neighbourhood concert in Harlem on Monday night.

As if that wasn’t enough, the CMJ music fest is almost upon us – and a handful of young South African musicians are jetting in to showcase their latest sounds. I’m looking forward to seeing the likes of Beatenburg and Christian Tiger School, among others.

So much music, time to make the time!

Carnegie Hall’s Ubuntu series tickets can be found here, and CMJ details can be found here

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