Review: Dreaming Zenzile Brings South African Singer Miriam Makeba to the Off-Broadway Stage
, 2022-06-02 00:00:01,
Long before the advent of Twitter, Miriam Makeba was a target of cancel culture. Born and raised it South Africa and an outspoken critic of the apartheid regime, the singer discovered that her South African passport had been canceled only when attempting to return home for her mother’s funeral in 1960. Later, she would face scrutiny by the US government for her association with Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, whom she married.
No matter. There were other places to live: Makeba resided in Guinea and Belgium when she wasn’t on tour, which was rare. And she is reported to have held passports from nine different countries during her life, plenty to ease the friction of regular international travel.
It wasn’t government sanction that seemed to most perturb Makeba, but her exclusion from the marketplace of culture by the people who owned the stalls: “It was not a ban from the government,” she told The Guardian in 2008, shortly before her death. “It was a cancellation by people who felt I should not be with Stokely because he was a rebel to them. I didn’t care about that. He was somebody I loved, who loved me, and it was my life.”
That love, and Makeba’s determination to live her life on her terms, both come through loud and clear in the tribute musical Dreaming Zenzile, written and performed by Somi Kakoma at New York Theatre Workshop in a co-production with National Black Theatre. Unfortunately, other aspects of the book are fuzzier, resulting in an uneven drama buoyed along by Makeba’s irresistible music and Kakoma’s powerful vocal performance.
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