“Music is a great blessing. It has the power to elevate and liberate us. It sets people free to dream. It can unite us to sing with one voice.” – Nelson Mandela
For the official opening-night show of the Chicago Jazz Festival – and the finale of this year’s Made in Chicago concert series – local composer, saxophonist and AACM veteran Ernest Khabeer Dawkins has created a work in honor of the late South African president that promises to do many of the inspiring things Mandela said music could do.
“Homage to Nelson Mandela: Ernest Dawkins’ Memory in the Center, an Afro Jazz Opera” will unite jazz musicians from Chicago, London and South Africa to celebrate their shared role in sounding the alarm against apartheid and helping energize the freedom movement. In basking in the dream of equality for all, the work will celebrate not only Mandela, great champion of human rights, but also the two heroic women in his life: Winnie Mandela, his first wife, and Graça Machel, his widow.
Their activist spirit will flow through the soulful, stirring vocals of Dee Alexander, who no doubt will also channel another woman who played an important role in the struggle, singer Miriam Makeba. Long treasured by locals, Alexander exploded into the national consciousness last year on NPR’s “JazzSet” program with her amazing tribute to James Brown and Jimi Hendrix. Her breaking of barriers certainly will resonate on this special occasion.