SA jazz legend campaigns against xenophobia

hugh_masekelaJOHANNESBURG South African jazz music legend, Hugh Masekela, is starring in a musical play that seeks to promote co-existence between South Africans and their fellow African migrants. (Pictured: Hugh Masekela, South African jazz legend.)

The musical, Songs of Migration, staged at Johannesburgs Market Theatre from January 13-23, also campaigns against xenophobia, which is still widespread in South Africa despite a national campaign by government, civic groupings, churches and artists denouncing it.

South Africa is home to millions of African immigrants, most of them from neighbouring Zimbabwe, who continue to flee various humanitarian crises in their home countries. The ever-increasing migrant population has alienated the migrants from locals, most of whom accuse the foreigners of causing an upsurge in crime, stealing both their women and jobs and competing for them in accessing cheap government-provided social services.

An estimated 70 people have died since May last year, while thousands were displaced and had their property destroyed by locals, who attacked the foreigners and demanded that they immediately return to their home countries.

Songs of Migration was created by Masekela, an internationally acclaimed trumpeter, composer and lyricist and written and directed by award-winning director James Ngcobo. Masekela also plays a leading role in the play, alongside another South African musician, Sibongile Khumalo, six other actors and a live band. I grew up in the townships and during that time, there was no segregation among African communities, said Masekela last week.

We respected people for being themselves and what they did, not where they came from and you would find people being proud of themselves wherever they lived. We had areas for everybody, Mozambicans, Zimbabweans, Zulus, Xhosas and there was no xenophobia that we see today. That is what this play is out to promote again as it also celebrates great musicians that came out of those migrant communities.

The play celebrates the discovery of minerals in Gauteng and other parts of South Africa during the late 19th century, which saw indigenous people migrate to the towns that had emerged out of the mining operations dumps. These new migrants brought with them their music, traditional costumes, musical instruments, songs, ceremonies and dance, said Lusanda Zokufa, a senior publicist for the Market Theatre, in a statement.

They left their ancestral homes and gathered in this cosmopolitan town- assembling an extraordinary mass of musical talent. Songs of Migration rewinds the tape and tells stories about South African music and history, and promotes African music and dance. The production includes rich musical scenes on the train that was seen as a separator of lovers, breaking up families as it moved raw materials to and from the ports for imports and exports.

This show is a musical celebration. We take off our hats to the musicians who captured this journey in song. It features songs by Mackay Davashe, Joseph Shabalala, Victor Ndlazilwane, Gibson Kente, Hugh Masekela, Dorothy Masuka (born and raised in Zimbabwe) and Miriam Makeba.

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