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God-Given Music to make people happy
It’s been two years since her last visit to Trinidad and South African songstress Lorraine Klaasen has an issue—roti. She is yet to have one. “I still have a hankering for a roti. I was promised one the last time I came, I am here again and I am still waiting,” she laughed, at the VIP Lounge of the Queen’s Park Savannah.
The landmark centre of culture is also known as the Lidj Yasu Omowale Emancipation Village during this time of year. The village and its activities were hosted by the Emancipation Support Committee. Klaasen was in Trinidad to perform at the major concert held at the Grand Stand.
Klaasen’s voice is well known in the African continent and North America. She carries the legacy of her mother, legendary South African jazz singer Thandi Klaasen who belonged to the group of women singers of the 50s—powerhouses such as Miriam Makeba, Dolly Rathebe, Dorothy Masuka and Sopie Mgcina.
“I have fond memories of T&T,” the younger Klaasen said.
“When I close my eyes when I perform here, I feel I am back home. So here is home away from home for me.”
With a couple days to herself after her performance, Klaasen spent it in Tobago and then she was off again, trading one suitcase for another, embarking on her North American tour to promote her new album Nouvelle Journee (a New Day).
The album, she said, includes songs that her mother sang to her—as a reminder that she inherited a God-given gift to make people happy across the world.
Thandi, now 86, also reminds her daughter of the importance of family. “My mum suffered a stroke, so I have decided to cut down on performances,” Klaasen explained. “She is struggling. It has affected her speech.”
Thandi’s musical legacy spans just over six decades, starting as child growing up in Sophiatown, a multi-racial Johannesburg suburb.
She sang at Nelson Mandela’s wedding. She has received a lifetime achievement award from the ruling ANC. “I often wondered what her life would have been had she left,” Klaasen said.
The South Africa Thandi knew—of being burnt, beaten, stolen—is not the South Africa Klaasen sees now. Although she does not get involved in the politics, Klaasen knows that critical times are ahead. The children of South Africa now don’t know the country of the past, she added. “They were born in a free South Africa, they don’t understand what took place,” she said.
“Where to now? Thirty years ago, Mandela was free but we still see injustice. Faith is an important part of life. We need to find peace. I watched my mom through her perseverance. We came from tragedy and like anything that hits a bedspring, we bounce right back,” Klassen said. “My mom is my mirror and a reminder of Jehovah God, I’ve got to have the passion as my mom at that age.”
Klaasen’s best memory of her country of birth, is her mother’s house which was more like a mini-motel for musicians who visited often and stayed for lengthy jam sessions as they played and Thandi sang. Her home was one of few in which white people visited, the connection was also music.
In the living room at her mother’s house is the Spirit of Emancipation award which Klaasen received from the ESC at her last visit to Trinidad.
“It is a good conversation piece, I get to talk about Trinidad and Emancipation. Some people didn’t know about Trinidad until I tell them. The award tells the story,” she said.
Klaasen spends her life between Montreal and South Africa—six months of summer at each place—and between, there are performances that take her around the world.
Before coming to Trinidad, she performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival and at Nuits d’Afrique, a popular folk festival also in Montreal. Her visits to the Caribbean have seen her at Jazz festivals hosted by Barbados, St Lucia and Grenada. She would love to participate in the Tobago Jazz Festival, she said.
The Caribbean, she said, is one of her favourite places to travel because of the warmth of the people.
“I need to spend more time there,” Klaasen said.
“To enjoy food.”
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