Introducing Miriam Makeba last night at the Kennedy Center, a young South African seemed to get carried away. He likened her performances to a trip on the Concorde, to landing on the moon. "Don't bother to buckle your seat belts," he said. "They won't help." As it turns out, what he said wasn't far from the truth.

Makeba is someone quite special, not just because she radiates enormous warmth on stage, or because this grandmother twice over easily fills concert halls with a majestic voice, but because she invests everything she sings with her whole self. Music is part of her.

Words, too, are very much a part of Makeba's performances, but her songs aren't always political, unless you consider her themes of love and brotherhood to be political. "I don't sing politics," she said. "I sing truth." Whatever she chose to sing, she did it with all her might.

The evening got off to a rather shaky start with the late cancellation of the Max Roach Quartet due to "unforeseen circumstances." The considerable task of replacing the legendary drummer went to the local Marshall Keyes Trio, who proved themselves worthy of the assignment by performing several invigorating jazz standards.