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Mama Africa–The Musical The Life and Times of an International Legend

Mama Africa – The Musical: The Life and Times of an International Legend

Three days of foot stomping energy, with audiences enjoying traditional dance to the tunes of songs that have stood the test of time – the first-ever performance of Miriam Makeba Mama Africa – The Musical was a fitting tribute to legendary South African artist, Miriam Makeba.

The big musical showcase is a celebration of the 30-year partnership and collaboration between the University of Missouri St Louis and the University of the Western Cape. The musical is a focus on the life, times and struggles of icon and music legend, Miriam Makeba.

And it was a fitting celebration. Performances took place from 26 to 28 May – celebrating both Africa Month and World Africa Day – at ?the Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Bellville Campus Auditorium.

The production, with its all-South African cast and orchestra consisting of students, professional and semi-professional community dancers and actors, featured 30 of Makeba’s most popular songs. It proved to be a dramatic show full of sound and sentiment, vibrancy and drama, and defiance of the apartheid era from the perspective of the black majority.

This musical is an original musical drama, researched and written over three years (and ultimately directed) by American Professor and Broadway director Niyi Coker Jr. with support from the Carnegie Africa Diaspora Fellowship Program, and in association with the ZM Makeba Trust and Siyandisa Music.

“It is quite humbling – and a true privilege – to be able to tell the story of this icon,” says Coker.

As for the performance, the kind of energy it evoked came straight from the heart, in true South African style, and it was inspiring to see audiences reciprocating. On all three nights – the energy was simply too contagious to curb the spontaneous interaction that each show evoked.

That audience participation was the highlight for many of the cast members who remarked that they were feeding off the energy they were receiving from the audience.

“It was quite a different experience performing for the first time, testing the play in front of an audience,” said Ameera Juta, a second year UWC BA degree student and one of the youngest cast members. “The first night was extra special – it had a large number of students who could relate to the story and even interact and identify with the play, and I think a lot of them are more curious to know more about the liberation struggle after seeing the musical. Even though Miriam Makeba's music is not from our generation, we have grown to love the tunes and learn about the country's history in a very practical way.”

Director of International Relations at UWC, Leolyn Jackson, thanked the creative team for their contribution.

“The music was great, the dance was vibrant, and the story reminded me of the time of my connection to the civil rights movement and my connection to the struggle against apartheid here,” said Prof Mike Middleton, Interim President of the University of Missouri System. “It was a deep and meaningful experience; well done to the whole cast.

The musical is part of UWC’s legacy, noted UWC’s Vice-Chancellor, Prof Tyrone Pretorius, and particularly the legacy of his predecessor as Vice-Chancellor, Prof Brian ‘O Connell. “I’m so blessed to be standing on the shoulders of giants,” he remarked.

And Prof Brian O’ Connell said youngsters who missed the show should definitely make a point of experiencing it. “It is a wonderful venture and I’m impressed by the energy poured out on stage – not simply the choreography; they’re giving a real expression of the fight against apartheid,” he said. “I hope this show goes to many parts of the world and will be carried over to the next generation.”

The show leaves for the US in September – but not to worry, it has a second run at the Baxter Theatre in Cape Town in February 2017, before it embarks on a Johannesburg tour.