Until last night, I had never cried at a music concert. Then, at the launch of her new album, "Belede" in Soweto Thursday night, Thandiswa Mazwai took me on a journey through time. We danced, we celebrated, we prayed, fell in love and cried.
Very few artists are able to invoke the spirit of a song and have their audience connect with it, but throughout the launch of "Belede", I felt her. Mazwai captivated us and she never let go.
The Soweto Theatre was an intimate venue with the likes of Sibongile Khumalo, Caiphus Semenya and Letta Mbulu sitting in the audience. I was star struck, but not by them, it was the legend on stage who I could not take my eyes off of.
Mazwai covered most of the new album, leaving out only Dorothy Masuka's "Nontsokolo".
I was brought up in a family heavily influenced by the love of music, but my folks were lovers of American music, choosing to listen more to the likes of Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye.
Before last night, "Jikijela", the song Mazwai dedicated to the student protest movement, Fees Must Fall, was slowly settling as my favourite song on the album, but now I'm not so sure.
Wakrazulwa ngexa yami.
"Jikijela" evokes strong emotion during a politically fraught climate, but "Wakrazulwa", Mazwai's favourite, moved me last night. It's an old spiritual song that Busi Mhlongo reimagined. On Thursday night, Mazwai cried as she dedicated the song to Mhlongo. Then she did unbelievable things with her voice, and I fell apart.
"You were cut because of me" is what "Wakrazulwa ngexa yami" means and even though I had no idea what the song was about, I felt a pain that slowly became a powerful call. I felt Mhlongo's spirit envelop the room.
"West Wind' is a song written by Caiphus Semenya, sung by Letta Mbulu, Miriam Makeba, Nina Simone and now me," Mazwai said. If we hadn't realised it by now, she has clearly taken her place at a table with the heavyweights of the music industry. She covered her own song "Ndiyahamba" and, if you were just listening without concentrating, you would easily think it was a completely new song. She belongs at that table.
Masterful instrumental performances
"Belede" offers masterful instrumental performances complemented by Mazwai's sweet voice. Young 'uns like me will love the album, but will have to do some research on the originals of each song, otherwise they will make the mistake of attributing "Kulala" to Miriam Makeba instead of Dorothy Masuka, like I did.
The album ends with "Makubenjalo", the part of "Nkosi Sikelel i'Afrika" that fell away when it was combined with "Die Stem" to form a new national anthem.
"The conquerers write history, they came, they conquered and they wrote. Now you don't expect those who came to invade us to write the truth about us. They will always write negative things and they have to do that, because they have to justify their invasion," Miriam Makeba's voice says just before the music starts.
On the album the song is an instrumental, but at the concert Mazwai sang, and we sang with her. It was then that tears streamed down my face. Mazwai took us back to a time when some of us weren't born, reminded us of the hurt and anger, taught us a few lessons and brought us back. She showed us that while a lot has changed, much has remained the same.