South African born songstress Lorraine Klaasen will be performing in Montreal for the first time in a few years when she will surely thrill, audiences on May 21, at the Women On The Rise Fundraising Gala at The Hampton Inn in Dorval.
Moving to London, Ontario about five years ago from Montreal, she didn’t
anticipate not seeing her loved ones for a minute because of this virus called Covid 19.
Asked about her relocation, she replied: “Aaah well, Ontario yeah! I was living in Montreal for the longest time (40 years) and then sometimes things happen and you need a little change but I didn’t calculate that the change would come with a covid (pandemic) of two years. It was a little difficult because it keeps you separated from your loved ones and your community.”
Lorraine, an only child and the daughter of legendary South Africa singer Thandie Klaasen, idolized her mother, whom late South African President Nelson Mandela who referred to both of them, as two of his all-time favorite performers.
Laughing from her southwestern Ontario home a few days ago on the phone, she Replied: “Yeah well, I don’t think he referring to me. I thinks he was saying that my mom was one of his favorites because they grew up in the generation of the 50’s. I think why he indirectly mentioned me was because I kept those songs (alive) so those great music that I continue to do right up to today brought back memories. That’s why this music could never die.”
When asked if she considered the shoes of her mother Thandie big to fill, she again, was all giggles,
“Well, when I was a little girl, I used to say when I grow up I’m going to be just like my mother. I’m going to sing and make people happy with my music. I knew since I was a little girl that this was the route that I wanted to take for myself.”
She added, “when I look back and I reflect on the promise that I made to myself, I really am living my dream. My mom was like my mirror. She was a reflection of someone that I wanted to be like but she always said, “ ‘you have to do everything your own way.’”
“So, I’m doing everything my way.”
At an early age, the Soweto-born Klaasen began performing around the continent in South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland with her mother.
Then she landed a gig in a musical theatre that took her to Europe.
“I left South Africa with 30 musicians and dancers and guess what? I played my mom in that musical. We went to Israel. We went to Greece.”
When the South African government got wind of that political musical “The Black Mikado” the apartheid regime gave notice that the cast was not welcomed back home.
While in Greece, she met and fell in love with a Congolese young man by the name of Ignace Lumumba, who happened to be the nephew of slain Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba.
After marrying, they moved to Montreal where Ignace’s mother resided.
Between 2000 and 2012, she released three albums and won a Juno award for her last album “A Tribute To Miriam Makeba” on Montreal’s imprint Justin Time Records.
Her ode to the South African goddess of song whom she affectionately called “Auntie Miriam” is not superficial as she grew up with Makeba who was a close childhood friend of her mother.
“Her (Makeba) music is what has been sustaining me all my career and all my life. What made Auntie Miriam stand out was that she was able to sing and tell the stories of South Africa.
My mother and Miriam all left South Africa in 1961 to perform in the musical “King Kong”. So, when I saw Auntie Miriam in Holland in 1986, I was telling her that in Montreal they refer to me as the young Miriam Makeba because I’ve been doing all those pata pata songs… (Klaasen then begins demonstrating click singing, trademark of the late great Mekeba)… I asked her if I would be able to record some of her music someday. She said “my baby, you just have to do it your way”.
“So, when she passed on, I remembered that I made a promise to keep on doing this music. I was so happy that I did it.”
In 1986, Paul Simon’s album “Graceland” was an ode to the South African “township jive” and “highlife” music styles. “Graceland sold 16 million albums around the world and won a Grammy Award for Album Of The Year.
When I asked her if it was a case of “cultural appropriation, she flat out denied that it was.
“No, it depends on the context. Paul Simon was really able to bring our music to the world. How would people know about Ladysmith Black Mambazo (legendary South African vocal group?) The bassist, Bakithi Kumalo actually played on my album. Paul Simon really did an amazing job by going there and showcasing South African music.
Lorraine Klaasen performs at the Women On The Rise Fundraiser Gala on Saturday May 21, at The Hampton In in Dorval.