Beiteddine Festival Closes with Makeba and Albita

Published July 22nd, 2001 - 02:00 GMT
Al Bawaba
Al Bawaba

Unlike previous Latin concerts in Lebanon - the traditional cha cha, salsa and mambo of the late Tito Puente in Beiteddine and the wonderful acoustic ‘son’ of Compay Segundo in Baalbek - Albita has dug up her Cuban roots and fuelled them with modern day jazzy tunes. Maybe, the comparison is illustrated best by the fact that Segundo played double bass, while Albita’s six-member band features a six-string amplified bass, according to 

The result is a highly danceable, dynamic Latin sound and, although she signed for the label of Gloria Estefan, her music is far more authentic -and has got more soul- than the poppy sounds of her Miami-based predecessor. Albita did pay tribute however, to the masters of the past in a magnificent voice imitation of Tito Puente’s percussions.  

Combining the past and future of Latin music, Newsweek rightfully called this Cuban tiger one of the “100 personalities of the 21st century.”  

After the break it was time for Albita’s singing South African counterpart, and one of the 20th century’s musical legends, Myriam Makeba, whose performance wasn’t exactly what most people had hoped for. In front of the stage, one hundred or so people were mainly waiting in vain to continue the dancing they started with Albita.  

“Mama Africa,” as Makeba is known, didn’t primarily bring the hypnotic drum-based rhythms of the Mother Continent, but rather a soft, Harry Belafonte kind of jazz, to which she alternately sang in English or Zulu. It was not a performance to dance to, but rather to listen to. Unfortunately, many people weren’t really ready to do so, even though there were enough highlights to make this an unforgettable evening.  

In fact, seeing the living legend performing on stage is an experience in itself. Born in 1932, she spent the first six months of her life in jail after her mother illegally sold cans of beer. From those humble beginnings, she grew up to be Africa’s most famous singer, the first to make it big in the West. Moreover, partly through her music, she was along with Nelson Mandela responsible for turning a scathing spotlight on South Africa’s former apartheid system.  

Today, the 69-year-old still has a wonderful voice that’s able to carry great emotional depth. And, though her hips might be a bit rustier now than in her prime, they still perfectly move to the rhythm. Just imagine your grandmother standing there!  

Dressed in a beautiful black and gold gown, Makeba doesn’t hide the fact she’s getting old. In fact, she’s proud of it, as she openly talks about it. Breaks are cleverly built into the repertoire. After the first two songs, she introduces her magnificent African band, allowing each of the members to show their skills. Lee's voice proved that grandma Myriam need not to worry about the family’s singing future, while providing one of the few moments the audience managed to keep their mouth shut for an entire song.  

Shortly after she returned, Makeba sang her world famous 1967 hit Pata Pata, and finally the dancers in the audience were able to do their thing. Another highlight was a more recent song called Masakaneh, Zulu for “I help you, you help me.”  

“And that’s what we try to do now in the newly found independence of our homeland South Africa,” Makela said.  

“You know, I only came to vote when I was sixty years old,” she said laughing, while adding a message that couldn’t be more appropriate for Lebanon. “Our leaders taught us never to forget, but always to forgive.”  

The most beautiful song of the evening was the first encore she gave, which was finally a traditional African a cappella sung tune. “Sing hiphop, rap and I don’t know what else,” taught the charming mother of all mothers, after presenting us her great-grandson, “but never forget the songs of your ancestors.”  

And thus Beiteddine's annual night of world music came to an end. Though a warmhearted success, it might have been better to first bill Makeba and have Albita close the night instead – 

© 2001 Al Bawaba (

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