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Living legend passes the torch Dorothy Masuku in Maseru to promote ‘The Stage’

Maseru is a far-cry from the presidential tables and upper society banquets that Dorothy Masuku is used to –– Zaire’s (now DRC) Mobutu Sese Seko once served her a rare monkey dish at the presidential villa in Kinshasa
Being a United States Hall of Famer and an internationally-acclaimed artist, the 74-year-old jazz veteran could have been anywhere she wanted to be in the world, but her work and commitment to the development of African music took her to Lesotho’s capital this week.
Masuku was in town to promote “The Stage” an arts project started by two Lesotho artists –– poets Siphiwe Nzima and Likentso ‘DK’ Qhobela.
In a classic case of dreams coming true, the two struggling young artists established Dorothy Masukucontact with the jazz legend via sms, because they could not afford to call her to tell her what they had in mind.
‘The Stage’ is an initiative which will see young artists recording music and other art forms in their mother tongue. The artists will also receive training and mentorships from established artists. The project, which will also serve as a networking platform,  will start off in Lesotho and expand to other countries in southern Africa.
Masuku, as lead mentor in the project, has already pledged to bring in artists such as Thandi Klassen and Tshepo Tshola for a festival in October. Up and coming Basotho artists will be invited to perform alongside these big names.
“I decided to come to Lesotho in order to convince people here to support young musicians. In these mountains there is great talent which can be used to promote Maseru,” said Masuku.
She said internationally, people didn’t know Maseru but  Lesotho would be better known if music was used to market the country.
Masuku is passionate about passing the torch to the youngsters and dreams of seeing them nurture a love for Famo music, instead of imitating Western artists. She said she met an obscure Basotho music group at a conference in Algiers but was surprised why the government had not sent someone like Tshepo Tshola in that forum.
Meanwhile, at home in South Africa, Masuku is back with her old record label Gallo and is busy working on  a number of projects, including a DVD project featuring her friend the late Miriam Makeba.Doroth&Kids
“My late friend Miriam Makeba performed a number of my songs such as Pata Pata. We will take her recordings and mine, mix these in the studio and release a duet DVD,” says Masuku. The DVD will also contain new material.
Another highlight for Masuku this year is a planned festival in Johannesburg to celebrate her 74th birthday.
“I will be inviting artists such as Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbuli and Oliver Mtukudzi to the festival, it will be very big.”
Born in 1935 to a Zulu mother who was working for a  medical doctor in Zimbabwe, Masuku has always been musical from an early age.  She recorded her first album in 1953 and has, to date, released more than 300 records. Some of the albums she recorded  include Nontsokolo, Ntoyami and the timeless Pata-Pata.
Her latest album, called Lendaba, was released in 2007.
Even at 74 Masuku shows no signs of slowing. She  is tech savvy and  has a sharp sense of humour and wit. When I asked her who she was and where she came from she answered: “You could just Google me and you will find me there!”
“Jazz has always been the same, izingoma se zintu, I listen to a lot of traditional music such as maskandi and I can dance to famo” she said.
Masuku first came to Lesotho with Charlie Denkins who showed her around the country.  She said the music of Lesotho should be authentic and original by going back to the villages to record the folk songs and fuse them together with modern instruments. She said maskandi is well known all over the world thanks to Ladysmith Black Mambazo who have won Grammy awards.
When she’s not working she loves spending time with her grandchildren who she describes as her joy and happiness. You can tell that Masuku is a mother as she keeps referring to me as “my son”. Masuku is survived by 3 children and nine grandchildren. Two of her children are late.
Asked about working with the jazz legend, Nzima and Qhobela could not hide their enthusiasm and delight.
“Anyone who gets a chance to sing with Mom Dorothy should consider him or herself lucky,” said Nzima.
Young artists in Lesotho should work hard on their acts if they want to participate in the festival in October, they added.

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