**SPECIAL U.S. APPEARANCE ON APRIL 23 AT ZINC BAR, NYC**
Soweto-born singer/dancer Lorraine Klaasen has spent her 30-plus-years career faithfully carrying the torch for traditional South African Township music, consistently performing and self-releasing her own CDs. On April 13, 2010, this powerful performer makes her long overdue debut on jazz and world music giant Justin Time Records with an 11-song offering of sunny, warm and danceable numbers titled Africa Calling.
Jubilant and transfixing, the music was produced for a tight clutter-free rhythm quartet led by Mongezi Ntaka (former guitarist of the late, great South African reggae vocalist Lucky Dube) and features the moving and melodic bass playing of Bakithi Kumalo - a star contributor to pop legend Paul Simon's band since his groundbreaking cross-cultural classic, Graceland. Both are dear friends of Ms. Klaasen.
"Though I've been living in North America for years now single-handedly promoting South African music culture, Africa has always been calling me," Montreal-based Klaasen states of the CD's title. "I could have chosen to sing R&B or jazz and had a far easier muscle road, but Africa was always calling me." The project reflects the open community-focus of her homeland and its time-honored traditions of kinship. "So much music today is only about me myself and I," she states, "but that is not where the spirit of music is coming from."
The opening number of Africa Calling is the buoyant "Jabulani," a celebratory wedding song. "It reflects our positive outlook on life," Lorraine explains. "When a young girl gets married, we don't say the mother is losing a daughter - we say she is gaining a son-in-law...bringing someone wonderful into to the family. My niece is getting married next year in South Africa and she insists that 'Jabulani' be the theme for the celebration!"
Familial ties that sacredly bind also come into play for one of the CD's most touching performances, "Ntyilo Ntyilo," a very old traditional South African lullaby that Ntaka and Klaasen have given a beautiful arrangement featuring harmonica and Kumalo's stirring bass in solos. "My mother sang this to me when I was a little girl... It was recorded on February 8, 2008 during our last day of recording - which was also the magical day my granddaughter Victoria was born - so it is one of my favorites."
From the churchy spiritual vibe of "Ngiyabonga" to the jazzier and sensual "Ziyadumi" to the cool shuffle of "Malayisha" to the beautiful accordion-driven rhythm of "Imbizo" and the spoken word closer "In My Dreams," Lorraine Klaasen's Africa Calling is a spellbinding, feel-good wonder. Klaasen, an astounding linguist, speaks 17 languages including 9 of the 11 South African tongues, as well as other African languages, Haitian, Greek, Hebrew and English. Her love and fascination with old French-speaking Quebec is also reflected in her singing the delightful 6/8-time number "La Reine." "The people here call me the South African Queen," she laughs! "I wanted to include a song in French. People appreciate when you make an effort to understand their culture."
Sensitivity to culture has long been a hallmark of Lorraine Klaasen's life. "I grew up in great musical household," she shares. "My mother is Thandie Klaasen - a living legend in South Africa - Nelson Mandela's favorite jazz singer. When he came out of prison, she was one of the first people he asked about. He was very much impressed by the work she did in the late '50s and the fact that she stayed behind. Imagine if everybody had exiled - what would have happened to the culture. She kept the home fires burning and received the Order of the Country two years ago. That is the background I have inherited."
Lorraine first left Soweto in 1976 for a trip to Israel with a 30-member group of singers and dancers called "Sola Sola." While abroad, the group watched in horror as race riots commenced back home. "We were barred from returning home because the government assumed we were away singing political songs, but we were only doing musical theatre." When Lorraine found herself in Canada a few years later, she was very taken with the cosmopolitan air of Montreal and decided to stay. Over the years, she has built up a fierce reputation for authentic music and performance, recording her first independently produced and distributed CD in 1988. Two more followed over the next two decades and included her two big hits "Bayasilandela" and "Kudala Ndikulindile." "I am a live wire, you know," she playfully assures!
"My first major concert was in Holland at the 'Mama Africa Festival,' which was named after Miriam Makeba," Lorraine says. "'Auntie Miriam' knew me since I was a little girl. She and my mom are of the same generation." Lorraine has since shared the stage with many fine artists 'round the globe including Manu Dibango and Hugh Masekela.
Now recording with high profile greats Mongezi Ntaka on guitar and Bakithi Kumalo on bass along with powerhouses Tony Albino on drums and Samito Matsinhe on keyboards, her strong South African roots have also been given a sweet Pan-Caribbean kiss. "Living in Canada and having worked with my regular band that hail from Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean, their influence has rubbed off on me," she confesses. But just like her composition "Mina Nawe" intimates, no matter where she goes or how long she has been away, nothing can erase the Mbaqanga rhythms and Soweto essence within.
"Music is not a uniform that I put on and take off at will," she concludes. "It is constantly with me."
Lorraine Klaasen will be appearing in the U.S. for one night only--Friday, April 23--at Zinc Bar in New York City.