From the BlogSubscribe Now

Last updated by at .

Soulful Sundays: Lorraine Klaasen

Loraine Klaasen performing at Kola Note, March...

Image via Wikipedia

I realize now that I was meant to meet Lorraine Klaasen.

I had been in Jamaica for a week and when I returned to New York all I wanted to do was curl up in front of the television and find a Bond marathon or watch reruns of Bonanza. I had done nothing to get ready for my trip to Montreal. I hadn’t even bought my ticket.

As Wednesday turned to Thursday, I struggled with the temptation to stay put – and disappoint my aunt – or spend what I was sure would be an astronomical amount on airfare and get the introductions she was to facilitate. I searched for last minute weekend packages.

Before I left, my aunt asked if I wanted to go to an event with her that Saturday night. Why not? I thought.

I had no clue what I was in for.

Lorraine Klaasen comes from South African musical royalty. The daughter of legendary performer and Nelson Mandela’s favorite jazz singer, Thandie Klaasen, Lorraine has been described as one of few South African artists who preserve Township music.

From the first chord sounded at the Cabaret Mile End, people were on their feet but the real dancing started when Lorraine came on stage. She is an electrifying and energetic performer.

But beyond her performance, it was something else she did that touched me. It was surprising and I couldn’t remember seeing it done before – Lorraine invited several up and coming performers to the stage and gave them space so that each in turn could entertain her audience. I was impressed.

It was because of that openness (and the fact that she was sitting at a table next to mine) that I decided to approach her at an awards dinner the following evening. When I told her about my planned trip to South Africa, she promptly gave me her business card and told me to email her.

By the time I landed in New York, she had responded.

We met again when she performed at Brooklyn’s Prospect Park Summer Concert series. My traveling partners and I invited her to dinner. She gave us a list, not just of friends but also family members, including her mother and brother, and contacted them on our behalf.

Because of Lorraine, we had a welcome party waiting for us when we arrived in Johannesburg. She single-handedly opened up that city and Soweto for us.

Lorraine will be back in my city this weekend. She, along with Malika Zarra, will be performing the music of the Grammy Award-winning civil rights activist and South African musical great, Miriam Makeba, at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater on April 1 and 2.

I can’t wait to see her perform again. Watch her here in the meantime.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dXAuWM8Q_oE]

Enjoy!

If you like what you’ve read (or seen) why not Share, Tweet, Digg, Like, etc. You never know who might be interested.

What stories do you think your clothes tell?

It wasn’t until I was sitting in the dining room of the Beach Hotel on the morning of our last day in Durban that I finally realized what I’d been missing during the two weeks we traveled around South Africa.

SA Jazz singer, Lorraine Klaasen in traditional beaded collar

At a table close to ours, a group of nattily attired women in dresses made from African fabric, sat engaged in lively conversation. In this room of business people, young professionals and tourists, they were beautiful and regal and easy to spot.

Nowhere in our travels had we seen a display such as this. Most of the women we had seen had coats on, the others – hotel employees, etc., wore uniforms.

Years ago on my first trip to Africa, as I waited to change planes at the Leopold Senghor Airport in Dakar, I watched, mesmerized, the Senegalese women dressed in riots of colors and patterns – no two women looking alike.

That’s what I missed, I thought to myself.

To me, more than anything else, seeing women in traditional African dress is an unmistakable statement of cultural reference, connection and identity that always makes me feel proud of my African heritage. I didn’t realize how much until then.

What stories do you think your clothes tell?

Cape Town on Foot, Pt I

Waterfront

Image via Wikipedia

Originally, we had set aside the second day for  Table Mountain but our guide, Ian Reinders, insisted we go that first day following our visit to Robben Island. His reasoning was simple: the weather was good and if we waited, it might change and we wouldn’t get to see the mountain. Since we had only 5 days in Cape Town, we didn’t want to take any chances so we agreed.

When we woke that morning, we were both happy and relieved that we had been flexible and listened to Ian. Clouds covered the city and a light rain fell intermittently.

Even on a cloudy day, it’s hard to escape the almost sterile beauty of Cape Town. Some places look so new, so clean, they feel as if they were just built.

After a late breakfast, we decided to head out and explore the city on our own. Tony, a friend in Cape Town, had sent us a list of places to see and eat and our friend, Lorraine Klaasen had recommended Mzoli’s Place, so food was covered.

We wanted to visit the Slave Lodge, a museum, and go to the Green Market Square, a shopping area we had heard good things about. Everything, it seemed was on or near Long Street – the heart of the city – so we asked directions and headed out on foot.

Cape Town walkway

The streets around the V&A were almost empty, as if everyone had left town. I wondered where they could be, where the residential areas were and how far away the townships – and the action — would be.

Don’t get me wrong: we saw people – at the V&A Waterfront, at Table Mountain and Robben Island, and on the streets. But even during the week, I never saw anything that rivaled the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg.

News of the day

Nevertheless, Ian kept reminding us to be careful and we’d remind him that we live in New York and also get the same warnings each time we visit Jamaica so we knew how to keep our guards up. The evening before, Judith and I wanted to use an ATM that was inside the mall at the V&A. Ian insisted on accompanying us and warned that we stand guard behind whoever was using the machine. I felt he was being overly protective but I figured it’s his city, he’d know it better.

But apart from a woman with a child who approached us in the mall asking for money — unfortunately, living in a large city like New York, we’ve become inured to people like her and spotted her a mile away — no one bothered us and we felt completely safe.

Along the way, we noticed a cab driver and asked him to take us to Long Street. He told us we were only 10 minutes’ away so if we wanted to, we could walk. He even gave us directions to get there! Okay, we’re definitely not in New York!

Sure enough, after a leisurely walk, we noticed the sign for Long Street. Right away, the energy felt different – still not as bustling as Johannesburg or New York but definitely livelier than before. People were hustling about and there were lots more cars, buses and noise.

It was hard not to miss the first shop we stumbled on. Life sized African figures, wooden carvings and furniture marked the entrance to the small store that was chock full of stuff: jewelry, fabric, sandals, carvings and more decorated the walls and sprouted from either side of the narrow walkway. We had to be careful not to knock anything over but despite that, we ended up spending nearly 2 hours browsing, haggling, and socializing with the Nigerian owner, who told us he was a prince back home (aren’t all Nigerians princes back home, a friend asked me when I related the story) before hunger pushed us to look for lunch.

With the Nigerian Prince

Like this post? Please subscribe and share.

Sawubona! Finding Family in Johannesburg

During our meetings in the months leading up to our departure, Sandra, Judith and I decided to identify our three ‘must-see’ places in South Africa. Soweto was on each of our lists.

An abbreviation of South Western Townships, Soweto, is home to about 2 million people. It is recognized internationally as the seat of the Apartheid resistance, and for us, women of African descent, it holds a strong emotional charge. No visit to Johannesburg would have been complete without a trip to Soweto. In fact, if all we got to see was Soweto, we would have been happy. Anything more would be, as we say in Jamaican parlance, brawta, a treat.

We arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa’s largest city, on the last Thursday night in August after a lovely flight via Amsterdam on KLM. KLM’s flight attendants were extremely friendly and attentive, the meals delicious and so attractively presented, I almost didn’t want to damage the package by opening it. (Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, where we had a 2-hour layover and KLM’s service deserve separate posts.)

Thope and Hope, our new friends, were waiting to meet us at Johannesburg’s Oliver R. Tambo International Airport. Thope‘s a friend of my new friend, Montrealer and South African jazz singer, Lorraine Klaasen, and Hope is Thope’s friend and co-owner of Shepherds Court,the guest house where we were booked to stay.

We had met Lorraine earlier in the year, told her about our trip and asked her to recommend places for us to see. When I told her that we didn’t know a soul in South Africa, without hesitation, she whipped out her Blackberry and gave us the contact information of several of her friends and relatives in Johannesburg. We were deeply touched by her generosity.

Sawubona, Finding Family in Johannesburg

Sandra, Marcia, Lorraine Klaasen and Judith

[Read more…]