African stars impress at UN headquarters

African musicians recently took centre stage at the United Nations headquarters in New York, USA this week to raise awareness of climate change. Ugandan lawyer Sam Kahamba Kutesa, the President of the 69th session of the UN General Assembly, hosted the concert, dubbed ‘The Transformative Power of Music’ at the General Assembly Hall on Tuesday 30 June from 7pm.

Nomsa Mazwai.
Nomsa Mazwai.

Hosted by President Kutesa in support to the United Nations ‘2015: Time for Global Action’ campaign, the concert aimed to celebrate the musical diversity of the family of nations and to raise awareness about the devastating effects of climate change on both the livelihoods of communities around the world and the planet’s fragile ecosystems. The campaign is designed to bring countries and citizens of the world together to determine the global course of action to address climate change and protect the environment, among others.

More than 140 performers representing five continents and a wide range of musical repertoires were invited to perform. All share the conviction that music has the transformative power to mobilize and bring people together. The MCs on the night were esteemed broadcasters Ann Tripp and George Collinet, who both have decades of experience in the music industry.

African performers at the event included: Ada (Brazil/Nigeria), Ahmad Gamal (Egypt), Ayo (Germany/Nigeria), Children of the MacDella Cooper Foundation (Liberia), D’Nyangi (Tanzania), Geoffrey Oryema (Uganda), Kaïssa (Cameroon), Kika Troupe (Uganda), M’Bilia Bel (DR Congo), Nomsa Mazwai (South Africa), Pierre Akendengué (Gabon) and Watoto Children’s Choir (Uganda).

Artists from elsewhere in the world included Angelo Mazzone (Italy/USA), Csaba Szegedi (Hungary), Ildikó Szakács (Hungary), Jihae (South Korea), Robert Davi (USA), Seiko Lee (Japan), Show Tahiti Nui (French Polynesia), Hervé (Haiti), Kolo Barst (Martinique), Midnight Groovers (Dominica), Marie-Claire (Dominica). Israeli singer Yasmin Levy and Arab-Israeli singer Miriam Toukan performed as a  duo. Jamaican reggae and hip-hop artist Ky-Mani Marley performed the single ‘We Are’ from his new album, United, with American reggae rapper Matisyahu and German reggae musician Gentleman. This album was issued on that same day.

"Let us not forget that from the dawn of humanity to the present day music has been a common element present in all cultures," said Kutesa.

The 40 musicians of the New York Symphony Orchestra were conducted by David Eaton, its globally acclaimed Musical Director. The House Band, under the leadership of Music Director Robin DiMaggio, comprised legendary South African bass player Bakithi Kumalo; New York City-based multi-instrumentalist Mark Stewart; French composer  Mino Cinélu; and South African multi-instrumentalist  Tony Cedras. The House Band was completed by a horn section composed of trumpeter Etienne Charles (Trinidad and Tobago); saxophonist Brian Hogans; trumpeter Jumaane Smith; and trombone Dion Tucker, all from the USA.

South African artist Nomsa Mazwai was invited to represent South Africa at the concert. Mazwai, sister of Thandiswa Mazwai, is known for her innovative sound that draws on neo-soul and Afro-pop influences. She won a SAMA in 2011 for Best Alternative African for her album Nomisupasta (‘nomi–superstar’). Outside of music, Mazwai is also a poet and social activist who strives towards building Southern Africa through arts, education and economic development. She has a masters degree in International Political Economics and Development at Fordam University in New York. Earlier this year, Mazwai performed alongside fellow SAMA winner Nakhane Touré at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg to raise awarenessfor the UN’s ‘My World’ campaign (more details here)

 “The levels of excitement in my life are through the roof. There are no words to describe this. Every time I get an email from the UN team, my heart jumps a little,” Mazwai told South African newspaper City Press. “My music speaks to socioeconomic issues. I’m not afraid to talk about political issues. I tackle the reality of living in South Africa, and I think that’s in line with the UN’s values,” she said, before adding: “I think this shows that you don’t have to be the most famous person in South Africa to have a voice that resonates with people."

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