Featured Member: Lorraine Klaasen, A Precious and Rare South African Musical Artist in Canada

40 square miles of misery. With a few cold water taps shared by thousands of people, Soweto, with its tiny shanties on scrublands, had some of the worst living conditions in South Africa, the richest country on the continent in 1976.

In 1963, the series of townships in Johannesburg’s south west were finally, officially named Soweto. Originally meant to warehouse black migrant workers for Johannesburg’s white population, plans for the South Western Township had been afoot since the dawn of apartheid in the early twentieth century. Before the system was codified in the 1940’s, South African officials visited Canada to study our Indian Act and the reserve system. Indigenous Canadians needed a white government agent to allow them a pass to leave their reserve. Segregation may have been an American term, but it certainly occurred here, and white South Africans were eager to legitimize their institutional racism, Canadian style.

In mid June, 1976, student demonstrations against teaching only in Afrikaans, the language of the hated Boers, quickly turned deadly, beginning a protracted struggle between Soweto’s inhabitants and the South African regime. It wasn’t until 1983 that Soweto would gain a measure of autonomy within the apartheid system. This is the chaotic, hate filled atmosphere Lorraine Klaasen left to pursue a musical career. The journey brought her to Canada, and later to international success as a singer. Staying in Soweto would result in multiple Klaasen family members’ deaths.

Lorraine Klaasen was born and raised in Soweto, the daughter of one of South Africa’s favourite singers, Thandie Klaasen. The senior Klaasen has been described as the Ella Fitzgerald of South Africa, and a favourite singer of Nelson Mandela. Her house filled with visiting musicians, young Lorraine sang locally as well, until landing a gig touring Israel when she was 19. There, she learned Hebrew and later in Greece, Klaasen would learn enough of that language to sing it. Klaasen has also recorded in Tsonga, Sotho, isiZulu and Xhosa (the clicking one), as well as our two official Canadian languages.

By the time Klaasen got here in 1979, she was just in time for a Canadian winter, with “no family. No friends. My husband was working.” Still, the determined singer landed a gig at Le Bijoux in Old Montreal in 1980, where she played a mostly jazz repertoire until 1986.

That year, Klaasen produced her show “African Broadway” and incorporated more sounds of South Africa into her music. She was also invited to the African Mama festival in Holland, with lifelong friend Miriam Makeba and other African luminaries like Manu Dibango. She would record her first album. “Soweto Groove,” and the album’s title would become the name of her band.

From making a big splash at the giant Montreal Jazz Festival, Klaasen has since hit most Canadian jazz festival coast to coast. She has also performed in the Caribbean, U.S. and in Europe, along with the motherland, in Africa. In between, she released more music on CBC and on local labels such as Justin Time in Montreal.

She has described occasional visits to Soweto as having her “batteries recharged.” In 2013, her c.d. “A Tribute to Miriam Makeba,” won her a Juno award for World Music album of the year. She had grown up calling Makeba “Auntie” and played her songs regularly from a young age so recording a tribute to the legendary singer and activist came naturally.

In addition to regular performances and recording albums, Klaasen has been visiting grade schools, mentoring and educating youth with spoken word presentations and workshops.

Klaasen released a c.d. in 2016 on Montreal’s Justin Time label, called “Nouvelle Journee” featuring songs in several languages, from Greek to several indigenous South African languages (not Afrikaans!). More recently, she recorded a c.d. in South Africa using local talent to help out. “African Connexion” intersperses covers like “Pata Pata” (which Klaasen also recorded for her debut l.p. in 1989) with mostly self-penned songs. Klaasen has performed at Afrofest, Canada’s largest live African music festival held in Toronto early in the summer. In recent years, she re-located from Montreal to London, Ontario.

In 2014 Klaasen performed with her mother in Montreal, one last time after a few false alarms. The last show together saw Lorraine’s daughters Jessica and Lydia Lomumba join the two senior Klaasen ladies.

Spotify Ep. 9 - CMW

Don’t forget to check out these Lorraine Klaasen songs as part of our new Spotify playlist episode  – https://spoti.fi/2ZWk8an

1. Africa Calling
Album: Africa Calling
Performed by: Lorraine Klaasen
Written by: Lorraine Klaasen, Mongezi Chris Ntaka, Yves Jeans
Source: Justin Time / Fontana North

2. Mina Nawe
Album: Africa Calling
Performed by: Lorraine Klaasen
Written by: Lorraine Klaasen, Mongezi Chris Ntaka
Source: Justin Time / Fontana North

3. Where To Now
Album: Nouvelle Journee
Performed by: Lorraine Klaasen
Written by: Lorraine Klaasen
Source: Justin Time / Fontana North

4. Imbizo
Album: Africa Calling
Performed by: Lorraine Klaasen
Written by: Lorraine Klaasen, Mongezi Chris Ntaka
Source: Justin Time / Fontana North


Lorraine Klaasen, the daughter of the late legendary South African Jazz singer Thandie Klaasen, is one of the few South African artists who have preserved the classic sound of ‘Township Music’, which continues to be the most distinctive sound to come out of South Africa. Born and raised in Soweto and now based in London, Ontario, Lorraine has electrified audiences worldwide with her dynamic stage presence and showmanship
In 2008, Lorraine released the highly charged album ‘Africa Calling’.  Through working with South African record producer Mongezi Chris Ntaka, and featuring bassist Bakhiti Khumalo (who also memorably performed on Paul Simon’s landmark album, Graceland), Lorraine accomplished her childhood dreams of taking Township music to the rest of the globe and making a truly African record that touches every heart & soul that beats the world over.

Her CD ‘A Tribute To Miriam Makeba’ won Lorraine the 2013 Juno Award for World Music Album of the Year and was nominated for an APCMA Award in the Best International Indigenous Artist category.  It is a tribute to the legendary songstress, who remains the most important female vocalist to emerge out of South Africa.

Lorraine’s latest and most ambitious CD the 2017 Juno Award nominated ‘Nouvelle Journée’ showcases some of the musical styles that Lorraine has not yet recorded in her long musical career.  On this album she sings in the Tsonga, Sotho, isiZulu and Xhosa languages of South Africa as well as English and French.   The repertoire is thought provoking – the importance of family, empathy, love and hope make up ‘Nouvelle Journée.’ It’s an optimistic, danceable record but also a lucid, sincere and engaging work.  Recent performance highlights include the prestigious Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, Festival International  Nuits D’Afrique,  Music of the Rainbow Nation and Hommage à Miriam Makeba in Toronto – as well as a very successful month long US tour.  Lorraine’s life on the road continues – with performances in South Africa, the United States, Barbados and at festivals in Ontario and Quebec.

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