Living in Norfolk like having tolerant and supportive parents

Anna Mudeka Picture: Aziz Einur, A212 photography

Anna Mudeka Picture: Aziz Einur, A212 photography - Credit: Aziz Einur, A212 photography

The remarkable energy and achievements of Anna Mudeka reverberate across continents from a tiny Norfolk village

Musician and arts project pioneer Anna Mudeke. Picture: Ian Burt

Musician and arts project pioneer Anna Mudeke. Picture: Ian Burt - Credit: IAN BURT

Anna Mudeka is a musician, dancer, entrepreneur, businesswoman and artist. This month she should be celebrating the first performance of the African Choir of Norfolk. Instead the choir she was commissioned to set up will launch at Norwich’s 2021 Hostry Festival.

Anna, of Southburgh, near Dereham, has also had to cancel the annual world music festival she runs from her home, but the charity it funds continues to help disadvantaged and orphaned children in Zimbabwe.

Anna was born and brought up in Zimbabwe, arriving in Norfolk as an 18-year-old, brought here, she explains, by “adventure, curiosity, football and the opportunity to enhance my music career.”

She was just six when she began playing traditional Zimbabwean musical instruments. By her teens she was a professional musician and dancer and still performs around the world – although Norfolk is her home.

Anna Mudeka at Southburgh's third International Music Festival.; Photo: Bill Smith

Anna Mudeka at Southburgh's third International Music Festival.; Photo: Bill Smith - Credit: Archant © 2011

“I love this county for all it has,” said Anna. “It’s peaceful and we have beautiful walks, forest, Norwich City and beaches - my favourite being Wells-next-the-Sea.

She lives with her husband, a farmer, and their two daughters, but was moved to launch the Mudeka Foundation after returning to Zimbabwe for her mother’s funeral and finding that at least a third of the children at her old school were orphans. She began collecting money and equipment and organised a festival of world music to raise money. It became the Norfolk World Music Festival and her Mudeka Foundation now funds many orphans through school and has provided classrooms, safe water, toilets, and free school meals.

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At 25 Anna set up Tambai Promotions in Norfolk to take African drumming, song, music and dance around Britain. Alongside each performance she runs workshops to spark interest in the music and stories of her Shona ancestors. In 2014 she was named one of Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government as an ambassador for African heritage.

Her ventures also included her own range of women’s shoes in bold colours and patterns, made by Van Dal of Norwich. Launching them in 2016 she said: “Living in Norfolk has been like having tolerant and supportive parents while growing up. Whatever I have set out to achieve, the good people of Norfolk have always said ‘Yes, we are right behind you’. They have embraced me as a musician and artist and I am so grateful for that.”

She said she does not experience racism as much as what she calls “ignorance and refusal of the need to understand” Locally she believes things have improved in recent years. “I love the mixture of stalls now available at Norwich Market, and the different restaurants offering exciting and exotic flavours alongside traditional. Nationally I’m not so sure!”

She wants to hear more open discussions about race. “Basically, this nation needs to rewrite history; too much of how the West went out and took over the world is not really accurate,” she said. “I am saddened in 2020 we are still talking about Black Lives Matter.

“It has been a problem for 400 years and until we start addressing the injustices which took place and are still taking place, we won’t move forward as a human race. I am glad of the consistence which has carried on since the George Floyd murder, we have to keep this going.

“My whole career has been about building these bridges, whether it’s through our annual Norfolk World Music Festival, my one woman show Kure Kure, or countless schools and community workshops over the 26 years in the business. It is through creating a platform where we can tell our stories that change can start taking shape.”

Anna began 2020 with her West End debut, performing with the Royal Shakespeare Company alongside Sir Anthony Sher. Last year her one-woman show Kure Kure, Faraway, based on the legends of her ancestors and her own story of settling in Britain, toured the country and she has plans for more theatrical productions including telling the stories of singer and activist Miriam Makeba, known as Mama Africa, and of Norwich’s own Antoinette Hannent, the jazz singer and pub landlady known as Black Anna.

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