Aura Msimang

Aura Msimang  [4 March 1947 – 28 December 2015]
Aura left the country in the early 60s when she was fifteen, only to return some thirty something years later. Before leaving Africa’s shores her family moved around the continent; the then Cecil Rhodes’ Rhodesia, Botswana, the Congo, Nigeria in the mid 60s during the Biafra oil war and then finally Sierra Leone where she finished high school. Used to moving and ready for more, in 1968 she went abroad for the first time. “The US and Europe presented something new and exciting although there was also the anxiety of leaving my parents for an indefinite period of time”.Harlem USA in the late 60s and 70s was abuzz with the vibe of Black Nationalism. Everybody was trying to find their roots and it was all about the Motherland. Martin Luther King was on the scene along with Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure), Amiri Baraka, Angela Davis, Malcom X and his ideological children; the Soul Dad Brothers; the Black Panther Party. Aura recalls these as “the best moments in African American history”. South Africans were also on the scene; Miriam, Jonas, Keifus and Bra Hugh. This was also the time when Hugh Masekela’s song “Grazing in the Grass” put South African music on the map. Paving the way for the big Nigeria personality was Baba Olatunji and the drums of passion. The Senegalese in all their beauty and informal business sense were there along with the Ghananians and their signature Kente cloth to complement the African aesthetic.

A husband and son Alpha later, along with the equally profound and devastating death of her mother, Aura decided to broaden her artistic abilities and further her studies. The Jamaican School of Arts (JSA) in Kingston granted her atwo year tuition scholarship. “I took advantage of this period to also check out the reggae music scene, doing back-up vocals in several local productions to help with living expenses”. Alongside friend Pamela Reed she did backing vocals on Reggae classic “Curly Locks”. Being an “Africandawtah” (a sister from Africa) she soon met theJAs’ musical big wigs; Jah Youth, Dennis Brown, Gregory Isaacs and BunnyWailer. She worked on two musical tours with Jimmy Cliff and also recorded an album with her brain-child group Full Experience which was produced by the wizard himself, Lee “Scratch” Perry at the mythical Black Ark Studios.The recording of the Full Experience album was riddled with obstacles and it wasn’t until some twelve years later that it was able to see the light of day. In 1989 in France while contracted to French star Maxime Le Forestier, that she was able to license 5 tracks out of the 13 recorded, and subsequently released them as a collector’s item under Blue Moon Records. Responding to critics who’ve said that because she is African she must therefore do African music, in an article entitled “Aura Meets Lee Perry” which appeared in Im’ Medai ’98 she pointed out that “African music is all over the world now. Reggae music is a part of African music, R&B is a part of African music, jazz is a part of African music and my life experience is all those musics”. She remembers the Black Ark songs to be the first African language songs done to a Reggae beat. It was also at Black Ark that she realised her dream of working with her idol, and later good friend, Bob Marley.

After her “nightmarish first experience in the real world of recorded music”, she left Jamaica for Miami, in part also to be closer to Alpha. In Miami she was an Arts and Culture teacher at the Coconut Groove crime prevention centre for two days out of the week and with the rest of her time she hustled and juggled organic honey from Jamaica, natural juices and her home made ginger beer at the farmers’ market. It was at the farmers’ market that Jimmy Cliffs’ manager found her and proposed a three continent tour in 1980. The tour was topped off with a performance appearance in the film Bongo Man, available on video circuit. While doing rehearsal with Bob’s mom Cedella Booker for an album to be recorded at Tuff Gong, Bob collapsed in New York while on tour. It wasn’t until a year later that Bob passed away on route to Jamaica, via Miami from treatment in Germany. The tears that well up in her eyes betray her guard. Outside professional studio work with Bob, Aura won’t speak more about Bob. “Too many people claim him now, Bob this and Bob that. I don’t want to be a part of that.” In a bid farewell to a friend and fellow musician Aura shared the stage with Bob’s mother at Bobs’ memorial service in Montigo Bay in 1981. Reaching into her trunk of memories she pulls out an album with Cedella on the cover. “We recorded the album about five months after Bob passed and Ma Booker has that Mahalia Jackson influence, and so the album has a sort of Reggae-Gospel sound to it which is really nice.” The album “Awake Zion” was backed by the Wailers band and produced by Bob’s wife Rita Marley.

Although it’s been four years since she made the decision to come home, she has only spent one full year in the country. “I’ve really just been shuttling back and forth between Bruxelles and here recording my album Itshe”. “Even though Itshe represents more of a closing off of a musical period, she still wants to do another full reggae album. Just last year she was one of three African artists invited to perform four songs each from their new releases in an RTBF/ Derive Film Production, shot in Belgium and the Congo.

The films working title is “L’agent de Liaison”, scheduled for release this February. In the film Aura is shown in a live show sequence. Like the many prophets who are never honoured in their own lands; she, like they, continues her quiet revolution. Working with other reggae musicians as stake-holders to motivate and create long term employment for themselves through their chosen music, Aura has embarked on a concept which she calls “Reggae Vision”. “Everybody’s motivation is different in the collective even though reggae’s vision is really one, but as for me, I am carrying on the rich legacy that has been extended by my life and musical experiences. There’s a dire need in the local industry and Reggae Vision is simply a platform for me and others to play our part.” Much like the tittle of her album, Itshe, Aura Msimang is every inch, a rock solid woman warrior.

 

Writtern by: Nhlanhla Hlongwane [(BA) Political Science & Communications, (MA) Media Studies] is a Freelance Filmmaker (Director, Camera person) and Writer. He is www.kush.co.za editor and a founding member of Kush Kollective.

 

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