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Dorothy Masuka
Gallo, South Africa (

Most of the world is familiar with Miriam Makeba, the grand dame of African music who was one of the first international artists to have a hit in the United States (Pata Pata in 1967), married famous and infamous men (Stokely Carmichael, Hugh Masekela) and who toured and performed with countless music legends (Paul Simon, Harry Belafonte, etc). Far fewer know the work of one of Miriam's contemporaries, Zimbabwe-born singer and composer Dorothy Masuka. During the 1950s, Makeba and Masuka, best of friends then and now, toured Southern Africa together, and competed on the charts with one hit song after another. Had history been kinder to Masuka, she probably would have achieved comparable international fame as Makeba, since her singing style, songwriting gifts, and political activism are comparable. Unfortunately, Masuka was exiled from South Africa in 1961 after one of her songs, a tribute to the recently assassinated African liberationist Patrice Lumumba, was seized by the South African Special Branch as anti-government propaganda. A pariah in South Africa and her native Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Masuka settled in Zambia where she spent an anonymous existence as a flight attendant until Zimbabwean independence in 1981. Finally, in 1992, Masuka was allowed to return to South Africa, the land that made her a star, where she has endeavored to rejuvenate her recording and performing career.

Masuka's new album Mzilikazi is a masterful production filled with musical gems that prove the case that she deserves worldwide recognition as one of African music's greatest figures. The songs on Mzilikazi are relaxed and soulful, performed with the self-assurance of a woman who was raised in the spotlight (for most of her early career, Masuka was a pin-up girl and gossip-magazine fixture whose every move was scrutinized). The album updates the South African jazz style that was all the rage in the 1950s with sophisticated yet subtle arrangements, lush vocals and expert production values. Pennywhistle riffs float over swinging piano lines and bubbling percussion. Although she is in her late 60s, Masuka's voice is still strong and fluid, and she is supported a couple of wonderful back-up singers. - Jacob Edgar

Available at cdRoots

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