Zimbabwean-born singer, musician and storyteller, Anna Mudeka is bringing her new show, Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song to Norfolk and Suffolk this month. Here, she explains why she wanted to give an account of the life of iconic South African singer, songwriter and civil rights activist, Miriam Makeba
To describe Anna Mudeka as multi-talented would still be something of an understatement. The multi-instrumentalist, actress, singer, writer and educator is a polymath proud to share the ancestral heritage of her native Zimbabwe through performance and workshops, inviting audiences of all ages, abilities and backgrounds to immerse themselves in sounds, spiritualism and fables of Africa.
Based in Norfolk, and very much an ambassador for the arts and culture of the sub-Saharan Africa, she is busy is preparing to tell the remarkable story of Miriam Makeba, otherwise known as Mama Africa, charting her rise from the townships of South Africa to global star, forced into exile for her stand against apartheid, and marginalised for championing Black rights.
This year marked a significant birthday anniversary of Dr. Miriam Makeba. She was born in 1932 and would have been 90 years old had she lived. Many tributes, exhibitions and events will be held throughout the year in honour and celebration of her life and legacy which led up to her untimely passing on November 9, 2008. This is also an important date which the Miriam Makeba Foundation acknowledges and commemorates annually.
The result of Anna’s artistic endeavours will be Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song, which will tour Norfolk, Suffolk and beyond this month, starting at Norwich Arts Centre next Tuesday (June 14). It’s a place that is dear to Anna’s Heart, as she says: ‘The Norwich Arts Centre is where we always start our shows. Since I came to this country the managers have really supported my work.’ She is also looking forward to returning to the Africa Centre in London. ‘Again, I’m going back to a place that also supported me.’
Told in four acts that define critical stages of her life, Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song chronicles the seismic personal and political events that came to shape the famous music and voice. With her intimate knowledge of singing in many languages including Swahili, Xhosa, Sothu and Zulu, Anna’s solo performance navigates an epic story through well-known songs, including Mbube, Pata Pata and Soweto Blues.
From a rising star exploding onto the international stage, introducing western audiences to African music, the story will then take audiences to the time after the Sharpeville massacre, which sparked a political awakening and uncompromising stance against apartheid – leading to Mama Afrika’s exile in the United States. Shunned by the American establishment for aligning with the civil rights movement and marrying Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, audiences will then find her displaced in Guinea. Her renaissance follows as ‘Mama Afrika’; celebrated for championing the Pan African cause and welcomed back to South Africa in the 1990’s where together with the release of Nelson Mandela her music continues to heal the soul of her homeland.
Anna Mudeka’s musical and theatrical biography of Mama Afrika’s life not only pays tribute to one of the most iconic women of the 20th century but is a deeply personal reflection of what an inspirational role model she continues to be for young African women determined to shape their own destinies and identities.
Anna says: ‘Mama Afrika’s empowerment and pride in the African Woman inspired many generations to follow their dreams and passion – including myself. Her spirit still lives on through the gift of song. It’s a real honour and privilege to celebrate Mama Afrika’s voice.’
Anna is relishing the opportunity to be able to perform on stage again, without restriction, after the events of the last couple of years. ‘St Andrews hall in March was the first live concert back. It was amazing. It was a Monday night in Norwich and was packed.’
As the Founder and Director of Tambai Promotions, Anna is passionate about creating one-woman shows to celebrate iconic women who have made a difference on the continent of Africa, as well as shows inspired by ‘one or two of my personal experiences.’
Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song has ‘been many months – or I suppose years – in the planning,’ says Anna, ‘I’d been thinking about this story line for a while.
‘This show is about telling the story of Mama Africa, a South African singer very well known for speaking out against apartheid. She was very much a proud figure and really championed the women she had grown up with in the townships. She was a force of nature like no other.’ Anna adds: ‘She mixed with Hollywood as well as Africa and everything in between.’
It’s important to Anna that it is a family friendly show, as she says: ‘The younger generations don’t know who she is – they need to know what this woman did.’ The show may have ‘started off as a personal homage’, but the result is a show which ‘links with different people of different walks of life.
‘It’s aimed at a younger audience,’ says Anna, before going on to add: ‘We separate age groups too much in the West.’ She would positively encourage a grandmother and granddaughter to go and see the show, for example.
‘It will be challenging – even the production team at times get emotional watching the show – but there are joyous moments as well.’
This month’s tour, which finishes in Ipswich, is seen as the developmental stage for the show. ‘We are trying it out to the audience.’ Next year they are looking at touring the UK at large. As for the following year? Anna is confident: ‘We’ll probably take it out to the big wide world: America and Africa.’
So how would she describe the show? ‘I’m not just saying this because I’m in it but it’s incredible. After 90 minutes people will think “the woman did all that? How did she do it?” We are all born with different talents, but she took it to a different level.’
Anna understands there’s a responsibility that comes with telling someone else’s story as ‘there will be people who know who Mama Africa was.’ But she says: ‘It’s taken me 14 years to prepare for this – I’m ready.’
June 14 – Norwich Arts Centre
June 17 – Africa Centre, London
June 22 – Sheringham Little Theatre
June 23 – Birmingham Mac
June 25 – Eastern Angles Theatre, Ipswich
Mama Afrika: Hope, Determination and Song is conceived and performed by Anna Mudeka and scripted by Zimbabwean writer Tomas Lutuli Brickhill. Featuring a global production team including musical direction by John Vigar at Totena Music (UK), backing soundtrack recorded by multi-instrumentalist Ziva Guveya (Zimbabwe), direction by Tonia Daley-Campbell (Jamaica), lighting by Carmen Wright (Jamaica), voice coach Yusef Legwabe (South Africa), costume design Edith KaNgwenya (Zimbabwe).
Featured image of Anna Mudeka – picture credit: Gideon Graylyon