Music and dance honor Mandelas at three venues

In a June 20, 1990 file photo, Nelson Mandela addresses the crowd at John F. Kennedy International Airport after arriving in New York. With Mandela from left are Winnie Mandela; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; then-New York Mayor Dinkins; and then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo.
Associated Press / Charles Rex Arbogast, File

Some may contend that Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie and his bride Empress Menem are distinguished to being Africa’s most acclaimed couple. However, in the 20th and 21st centuries most will regard South Africa’s Nelson and Winnie as the continent’s most renowned couple as well as the two fiercest freedom fighting union of the entire world.

Together they maintained vigilance and a conviction to Black self-reliance, equality of the races and abolition of white supremacy and domination in their country. Individually, each was beaten, arrested, jailed and ultimately vindicated when apartheid was abolished and Nelson was elected the very first Black to rule his nation.

The couple visited New York, stopping first at Brooklyn’s Boys & Girls High School before being showered with ticker-tape during a ride through the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan. They were greeted at City Hall by David N. Dinkins, New York City’s first and only Black mayor, and thousands hailed Africa’s best ambassadors before they headed to Harlem for an even greater reception. Later that day, actor and activist Harry Belafonte welcomed the couple to Yankee Stadium for a memorable concert and tribute.

Indelibly imprinted in my memory bank is the image of the future world leader donning a Yankee baseball cap and saying: “I Am A Yankee!” The statement drew tumultuous cheers from the capacity crowd.

It is probably for those and other reasons why this nation’s largest African dance festival will hail the patriarch during the 41st season of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s DanceAfrica Memorial Day weekend festivities. The world grieved when he died five years ago.

“This year’s performance offers a taste of the rhythm and spirit of South Africa, acknowledging Nelson Mandela’s centennial birthday and the contributions of freedom fighters past and present.”

From May 25 to 28, South African super-group Ingoma KwaZulu-Natal Dance Company will add traditional movement idioms alongside the contemporary stylings of Durban-based Siwela Sonke Dance Theatre in honor of the iconic hero and nationalist.

The troupe will be joined by the BAM / Restoration Dance Youth Ensemble, and together they will “rejoice in the transcendent power of movement and music in a range of forms and traditions. This year’s performance will draw parallels between South African anti-apartheid and American civil rights movements, portraying the struggles for justice and, ultimately, serving up triumphant celebrations of culture.”

An African bazaar comprising more than 150 vendors will enhance the festive spirit of South Africa and acknowledge Nelson Mandela’s centennial birthday. For more information

Married for 38 years — including the 27 she spent in the absence of her incarcerated — husband Winnie was regarded as a fierce and dedicated advocate to the cause of liberation until her death last month at age 81.

Tributes to the un-apologetic feminist, wife, mother, grandmother and role model will be belatedly lavished from noon to sundown on June 9 when The People of the Sun Middle Passage commemorate the 29th Annual Tribute to Our Ancestors of the Middle Passage at Coney Island.

Slated to be celebrated between 16th and 17th Streets on the Boardwalk at Coney Island, a tribute hosted by poet Ras Osagyefo and Habte Selassie on WBAI-FM’s host of “Labbrish” is expected to continue the tradition of paying respects to “our ancestors who lost their lives in the Middle Passage and those in our families who are no longer with us.”

Winnie Mandela is among the heralded ancestors to be celebrated with music, spoken word and dance. Performances by: Shanto, Ras Atiba & The Sarabita World Band, Congo Square Drummers and others will kick-off the ritual of walking to the water’s edge, placing flowers on the water and sounding drums in honor of the matriarch and others whose lives impacted generations. For more information, contact Akeem @718-659-4999 or akeem[email protected]

The beloved South African woman will also be regaled during the 47th annual International African Arts Festival from June 30 – July 4. Celebrating Dekawowo (Solidarity) this year’s theme will resonate with acknowledgement to Mandela and other extraordinary individuals. In addition to paying homage to Winnie Mandela, the Brooklyn annual event slated for Commodore Park at Flushing Ave. will also dedicate the cultural festival to the memory of South African musician Hugh Masekela. For more information, call 718-756-8501 or [email protected]

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