1932: Born Johannesburg, South Africa
1959: Stars in the jazz opera King Kong and anti-apartheid film Come Back, Africa, met Harry Belafonte
1960: Barred from South Africa
1963: Testifies against apartheid at the United Nations
1966: Becomes the first African woman to win a Grammy award
1968: Marries Black Panther Stokely Carmichael and moves to Guinea
1985: Moves to Brussels after her child Bongi dies in childbirth
1990: Returns to South Africa after personal request from Nelson Mandela
2005: Begins a "farewell tour" of the world that lasts three years
2008: Dies in Caserta, Italy following a concert, aged 76
Johannesburg ~~ November 10 2008
Message from Mr Nelson Mandela on the death of Miriam Makeba.
"The sudden passing of our beloved Miriam has saddened us and our nation.
For many decades, starting in the years before we went to prison, MaMiriam featured prominently in our lives and we enjoyed her moving performances at home. Despite her tremendous sacrifice and the pain she felt to leave behind her beloved family and her country when she went into exile, she continued to make us proud as she used her worldwide fame to focus attention on the abomination of apartheid.
Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us. Even after she returned home she continued to use her name to make a difference by mentoring musicians and supporting struggling young women. One of her more recent projects was to highlight the plight of victims of land mines.
She was South Africa's first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika. She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours.
It was fitting that her last moments were spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause".
London ~~ November 13, 2008
If you met Miriam Makeba, you'd hate apartheid
‘Mama Afrika' not only had a marvellous singing voice: it was used to great political effect
By Desmond Tutu
This is a sad time for South Africa. Miriam Makeba's death on Monday came as a great shock to me, and there is a sense of devastation here. There are some people you think are indestructible, with whom it is impossible to associate mortality, and she was one of those. We believed she had always been with us and that she would always be there. My country has lost a great human being.
The very first time I saw her was in 1959. She was young but already a star, having sung with the Manhattan Brothers and the Skylarks. She was starring in the musical King Kong, and the song I remember her singing was a ballad called Back of the Moon. It was not about the Moon in the sky, however, but a shebeen. This was the show that took her abroad, to London and eventually America, where she would be taken under the wing of Harry Belafonte - and we owe him a debt of gratitude for that. She needed him to vouch for her because she was an unknown, but after that her success with songs such as Qongqothwane (The Click Song) was her own.
I remember when she was forced into exile in the 1960s after appearing in a documentary about apartheid. In one sense, those of us still in South Africa were sad that another talented person had left, but so many others - our brothers and sisters, our leaders, our stalwarts - had already gone, and we knew that they were leaving under duress, and that it was not something they would have chosen to do. They would not have gone had the circumstances been different.
Yet it was also good that people such as Miriam, Oliver Tambo and Thabo Mbeki were going forth and showing the world that we did not go around eating people, that we walked upright and that we wore clothes. Apartheid wanted to give the world that image of us. In spite of all the obstacles put in our way, Miriam Makeba emerged from South Africa with this beautiful voice. In that way, she became one of the greatest arguments against apartheid.
When she spoke at the Anti-Apartheid Committee of the United Nations in 1963, she galvanised incredible support from the international community. People were surprised that she could speak so eloquently, so coherently, so intelligently. She was one of those who incarnated the absolute stupidity of apartheid. She helped to concentrate the minds of the world on our plight, and when people met her they found an engaging person who was full of fun and looked you straight in the eye. When they put the reality side by side with the caricature that apartheid was putting forth about us, people understood exactly why they should support
the anti-apartheid movement. Although she was not overtly political, her presence was a political statement.
I remember going with her to a ceremony in Sweden a few years ago, where she was getting some award or another, and she could still captivate her audiences with that incredible voice. She was still amazingly agile on stage at an age when most of us have to have conversations with our bodies whenever we want to move. You really had to make an effort to realise she was getting on in years. She had managed to keep well and vibrant, and she had this great warmth. She was very attractive, too, and, I have to say, cuddly.
She richly deserved the name by which she was known, Mama Afrika, but I am not sure South Africa truly gave her the recognition she deserved, and I hope some posthumous award may be given that rectifies this omission. She was exiled from her home for more than 30 years, but I will never forget the alacrity with which she returned to South Africa as soon as the atmosphere was more congenial and fantastic changes were taking place.
I know Miriam would have celebrated the election of Barack Obama. Many have said it's a Mandela moment, an injection of hope, but it is also similar to what her success meant to the people of South Africa: a sign that change can happen, that change for the better can happen. She would have jumped high in the sky and shouted: “Yippee! God, we're good.”
Desmond Tutu was the Archbishop of Cape Town, 1986-96
November 11 2008
Miriam Makeba -- An Appreciation
By Paloma McGregor | TheRoot.com
A special gift from 'Mama Africa.'
Last May, the city of my mother's birth gave me an amazing birthday gift: Miriam Makeba.
I was turning 33 and had never been to London, where my mom weathered WWII, the daughter of Irish and Italian immigrants.
With no remaining family in the city, I was a tourist. So, on my first day there, I did the touristy thing: I climbed to the second level of a rain-soaked, double-decker bus and pulled out my digital camera.
I made it as far as Trafalgar Square, that great public meeting ground for protest and celebration, when I noticed a large banner reading: Africa Day. Whatever that meant, I knew I had to get off and investigate.
Africa Day, it turns out, was a daylong arts celebration, a part of England's yearlong commemoration of its extraction from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The headliner for the day: none other than "Mama Africa," Miriam Makeba.
Born in 1932, Makeba's career was marked by activism until the very end. She was banned from South Africa for testifying against apartheid before the United Nations, had concerts canceled in the U.S. after marrying Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, and her last performance, Sunday, was at an anti-racism and anti-organized crime concert in Italy.
While she claimed her art was not purposefully political, some of her most acclaimed work certainly seemed that way. In 1966, Makeba became the first African woman to win a Grammy award for her collaboration with Harry Belafonte on An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba. The album was a critique of South African apartheid. And some of her most popular songs, including "Pata Pata" and "The Click Song," were in her native Xhosa, a nod to the culture of her birth rather than the colonial culture.
Her voice, a melding of jazz and African sensibilities, provided a powerful delivery mechanism. "Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years," Nelson Mandela said in a statement following Makeba's death. "At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us."
And to think, I had just stumbled on this legend's concert. Stunned by my fortune, I posted up in front of the elevated stage for hours, as people of all races drizzled into the square to wait. I had first heard Makeba when I was 13, on a VHS tape of Paul Simon's Graceland concert (which my sister and I bought for my mom's birthday). But I never imagined being able to see her in person, up closeand for free!
Soon, the drizzle of people became a downpour, as did the rain falling on us. By the time Makeba took the stage, we had become a multi-culti sea of umbrellas, covering friends and strangers alike. Kids were hoisted on shoulders so they could see, too. Cameras were passed through the crowd so that folks in the back could take home a sharper shot of this historic day.
(Now, a week after Obama's election, I can't help but think of the street where I celebrated in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, drums calling folks out of their insulated apartments to revel together.)
Makeba sang for us more than an hour. For the brother next to me from Jamaica, who borrowed my umbrella to shield a kid. For the South African teens who were shouting requests in front of me. For the English woman who taught me how to shoot video with my camera. And for me, a first-generation American returning to her mother's homeland.
Makeba shared the spotlight generously with talented young singers and musicians, including her adolescent grandson, who played a wicked conga solo. But when she sang, it was with the passion, strength and joy of a woman who, like my mom, experienced the world fully.
So when my mom, now 71, called early Monday morning to tell me Makeba died just after performing, I was sadbut only for a moment. Then I thought, what an amazing thing to leave this world after giving one last gift.
This lesson in giving your life to your art couldn't have come at a more appropriate time for me. Next week, the company I dance for, Urban Bush Women, will have the New York premiere of its collaboration with Compagnie Jant-bi of Senegal. Through dance, two companies separated by a vast ocean, speak of the resistance, memory and love that holds together people of the African Diaspora. It is a work, I believe, that is part of the legacy of an art maker like Makeba. So when I step onstage, I hope to embody the memory of Makeba's hourlong concert in the rain, my birthday gift in my mother's homeland.
That is the greatest gift I could give back.
Paloma McGregor is a choreographer and freelance writer from New York.
London ~~ Monday, 10 November 2008
Mandela mourns icon Miriam Makeba
Video link: Miriam Makeba's final concert took place in Italy
Former South African President Nelson Mandela has paid tribute to singing legend Miriam Makeba, who has died aged 76 after a concert in Italy.
She was the "mother of our struggle" and "South Africa's first lady of song", Mr Mandela said.
Makeba became a symbol of the fight against apartheid and spent three decades abroad after South Africa's government revoked her passport.
Mr Mandela said her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile.
"She... richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika," Mandela said in a message.
"Her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us. Even after she returned home she continued to use her name to make a difference by mentoring musicians and supporting struggling young women," Mr Mandela said.
South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC) also paid homage to her musical contribution "to the liberation of South Africa".
"One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing," South African Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said.
"Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song."
Makeba was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932. Her singing career started in the 1950s as she mixed jazz with traditional songs.
She came to international attention in 1959 during a tour of the United States with South African group the Manhattan Brothers and performed for President JF Kennedy at his birthday party in 1962.
It was while living in exile in the US that she released her most famous songs, Pata Pata and the Click Song.
She was forced into exile soon after when her passport was revoked after starring in an anti-apartheid documentary and did not return to her native country until after Mr Mandela was released from prison in 1990.
In 1963, Makeba appeared before the UN Special Committee on Apartheid to call for an international boycott of South Africa.
The South African government responded by banning her records, including Pata Pata and the Click Song.
Makeba was the first black African woman to win a Grammy Award, which she shared with Harry Belafonte in 1965.
Charlie Gillett, who presents the BBC World of Music programme, says there is nobody to compare to her, as she was popular in West Africa - after living in exile in Guinea - and East Africa - she recorded a version of the Swahili song Malaika, as well as her home in South Africa.
She was African music's first world star blending different styles long before the phrase "world music" was coined.
After her divorce from fellow South African musician Hugh Masekela, she married American Black Panther Stokely Carmichael and moved to Guinea.
She appeared on Paul Simon's Graceland tour in 1987 in Zimbabwe.
"You sing about those things that surround you," she said. "Our surrounding has always been that of suffering from apartheid and the racism that exists in our country. So our music has to be affected by all that."
Makeba announced her retirement three years ago, but despite a series of farewell concerts she never stopped performing.
When she turned 75 last year, she said she would sing for as long as possible.
London ~~ Monday, 10 November 2008
Miriam Makeba - the Empress of Africa
By Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent
Miriam Makeba on stage in Castel Volturno, Italy, on Sunday during her final concert (EPA/CESARE ABBATE)
It will have surprised no one that Miriam Makeba died as she had lived, in full voice and in support of a political cause.
The 76 year old singer suffered a fatal heart attack, it was announced yesterday, shortly after performing at a concert in southern Italy in honour of Roberto Saviano, a journalist whose work in uncovering the Camorra mafia has earned him death threats and a life in hiding.
Makeba, or Mama Africa as she was known to her legion of fans around the world, became the first global African star both through her music and her lifelong willingness to adopt an outspoken stance on the political issue of the day – apartheid.
Yesterday it fell to South Africa's other global icon, Nelson Mandela, to pay tribute to her: “She was the mother of the struggle and the nation. She gave voice to the pain of exile and separation. It was fitting that her last moments were spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause."
The woman hailed as the "Empress of Africa" left her audience calling for more. After performing to more than one thousand people in Castel Volturno -- a Camorra stronghold where six African immigrants were shot dead two months ago by the mafia - the crowd was begging for one last song.
"There were calls for an encore and at that moment someone asked if there was a doctor in the house,” said a photographer attending the show. “Miriam Makeba had fainted and was lying on the floor." She had died of a heart attack after collapsing on stage.
As the news reached her homeland yesterday morningm callers besieged radio talkshows, many of them in tears, all of them talking about her voice, her activism and her humour.
The emergence of the girl from Johannesburg onto the world stage had also come in Italy at the Venice film festival in 1959. After her first big break in the musical King Kong which had to be performed on South Africa university campuses for it to be seen by a black and white audience, she came to the attention of US film director Lionel Togosin.
He included songs by her in his controversial documentary 'Come Home Africa' which caused a stir later the same year at Venice and Makeba was flown in for the occasion. The film painted a bitter portrait of the life of black South Africans and the young singer's voice drew critical acclaim. The 27-year-old decided not to risk a return to her apartheid-ruled country and instead moved to London.
A year later when she tried to go home for her mother's funeral she discovered her passport had been revoked in South Africa, where they later banned her music after she denounced the evils of apartheid at the UN. She began what was to be 31 years in exile.
Deceptively slender, with a sultry voice, she was courted by a who's who of 1960s stars from Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte to JFK, Marlon Brando and Bette Davis. She became the first African to win a Grammy in 1966 -- a meteoric rise for a girl who began on the tough side of a racial divide, and who had only been encouraged to sing in her cousin's group the Cuban Singers by relatives who told her that she sang like a “nightingale”.
It was during this period and with the backing of Belafonte who had arranged her US visa that she cut the two records that cemented her popularity beyond the shores of Africa: 'The Click Song' (Qongqothwane in her native Xhosa language) and 'Pata Pata' (the last song she sang on stage in Italy before collapsing).
However, her instinctive, political compass would complicate and ultimately curtail her America honeymoon. In 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement she married the black power activist Stokely Carmichael, her third husband. This was too much for the American mainstream and radio stations and concert promoters quietly dropped her from their schedules.
This second rejection was cushioned by an offer to return to Africa from Guinea's leader Sekou Toure, who gave her a diplomatic passport and used her star name to elevate his own status. The fact that she never explicitly criticised her former sponsor Toure prompted critics to accuse her of a human rights blind spot. Warm relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro only cemented this perception.
But she remained for millions on the continent the “Empress of African Song”.
While in Guinea she cut the stunning live album 'Appel A L'Afrique' which included the tender love song 'Malaika', long seen as an unofficial Panafrican anthem. It was produced by her compatriot and her second husband, the trumpet player Hugh Masekela.
After a comparative lull in her music career she came back to prominence in Paul Simon's Graceland tour in 1987. By now experimenting by mixing traditional South African songs with jazz, soul and pop she was firmly acknowledged as a pioneer of what came to be known as “world music”.
After Nelson Mandela was released from prison she was finally invited home in 1992, the ban on her music having been lifted four years earlier. "It was like a revival," she said of her homecoming. "My music having been banned for so long, that people still felt the same way about me was too much for me. I just went home and I cried."
She always rejected the notion that she had been consciously political and said that circumstance had dictated what she chose to sing about. “Our surroundings make us what we are,” she said in a recent interview. “Our surroundings were our suffering from apartheid and this racism business. We have love songs and we have lullabies too, because we have children and we have love.”
Musicians who played with her remembered her as a softer figure than some might have imagined who would always insist on cooking for guests and fancied herself as a great chef.
Although she played to packed auditoriums all over the world in 1997 on a “farewell tour” Makeba stayed musically and politically active with the UN and her own charities. Earlier this year she performed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in support of a campaign against sexual violence.
As South Africa went into mourning yesterday the country's foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma summed up the loss: "One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing. Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song."
London ~~ Monday November 10 2008
Obituary: Miriam Makeba
South African singer who was one of the voices of the anti-apartheid movement
Miriam Makeba ... South African singer, affectionately known as Mama Africa, died aged 76.
Miriam Makeba, who has died aged 76, was known as Mama Africa and the Empress of African song. She was one of the most visible and outspoken opponents of South Africa's apartheid regime from the 1960s till its dismantling in the early 1990s. She was also the anti-apartheid movement's most audible spokesperson, having entered the top flight of international performers and able to sell out prestigious concert halls with a repertoire that changed little over three decades of musical evolution.
Makeba's career propelled her from township singing group to global celebrity, feted in some countries and banned from others. She was a natural and consummate performer with a dynamic vocal range and an emotional awareness that could induce the delusion of intimate contact in even the most impersonal auditorium. But her personal life was an epic tragedy of injustice, domestic upheaval, exile and torment.
Miriam "Zenzi" Makeba was born in a township suburb of Johannesburg. Her father, Caswell, was Xhosa; her mother, Christina, was Swazi. The name Zenzi (from the Xhosa Uzenzile, meaning "you have no one to blame but yourself"), was a traditional name intended to provide support through life's difficulties.
Later the family moved north to Transvaal, where Caswell worked as a clerk for Shell. Her mother was a spiritual healer who also took jobs as a housemaid. After the early death of her father, Miriam was forced to work, and for a short spell she also did housework. But she had already noticed that "music was a type of magic" that could elevate her from the poverty which surrounded her. As a young girl, her singing had been praised at the Methodist Training school in Pretoria, but what should have been the highlight of her amateur career turned to disappointment. She had been due to sing What a Sad Life for a Black Man for the visit of King George VI, but after the children had stood waiting in the rain, the royal visitor drove by without stopping to hear them.
When apartheid was introduced to South Africa in 1948, Makeba was old enough to grasp the consequences, and to see the limitations placed on the career of her heroine Dolly Rathebe, her senior by four years. Makeba gave birth to her daughter Bongi at the age of 17 and was then diagnosed with breast cancer, which was treated unconventionally, but successfully, by her mother. The first of her five husbands left her shortly after.
Her musical career progressed more smoothly. Since the turn of the century, American jazz and ragtime had been absorbed into South Africa and transposed into local forms. Combined with Anglican church hymnody, this had led to the distinctive vocal harmonic style known as mbube, practiced in many communities by "evening" or "night" choirs of enthusiastic amateurs. Following a period with the Cuban Brothers, Miriam's big break came in 1954 when she joined the Manhattan Brothers, a top band whose vocal harmonies were modelled on the American Mills Brothers and Ink Spots.
Initially, when the Manhattans travelled abroad Miriam joined a female group called the Sunbeams who became better known as the Skylarks. They recorded more than 100 songs, many of which became big hits, with Miriam singing alongside Abigail Kubeka, Mummy Girl Nketle, Mary Rabatobi and sometimes with Dorothy Masuka, who brought songs and vocal inspiration from her homeland of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
Eventually, Miriam went on tour with the Manhattans, getting her first taste of the outside world visiting Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and Congo. Playing at home she also experienced some of the most heartless and shameful aspects of the apartheid system, which she later recalled in her autobiography, Makeba My Story (1988), written with James Hall.
In 1957 she was recruited as a soloist in the African Jazz and Variety Review that toured Africa for 18 months. Then she landed the female lead role in King Kong, a legendary South African musical about the life of a celebrated boxer that played to integrated audiences and spread her reputation to the liberal white community.
The key to her international success was a small singing part in the film Come Back Africa, a dramatised documentary on black life directed covertly by Lionel Rogosin. Miriam played herself singing two songs in a shebeen. When the film was finished Rogosin invited her to attend a screening at the 1959 Venice film festival, where she became an instant celebrity. She was flown, via London, to New York appearing on television and playing at the Village Vanguard jazz club.
The calypsonian Harry Belafonte took her under his wing and guided her through her first solo recordings. African standards such as Pata Pata and the Click Song, which she first performed with the Skylarks, formed the basis of her repertoire and remained the most popular songs throughout her career. Shortly after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Miriam heard that her mother had died, but her own South African passport had been revoked and she was prevented from returning home for the funeral. Thus began 30 years of exile.
Her life in the US continued to unfold like a showbiz dream. She was recording and touring, and meeting all the stars from Bing Crosby to Marlon Brando: the young newcomer was also staggered to find herself appearing along with Marilyn Monroe at the famous birthday celebration for John F Kennedy.
Her first return to the continent of Africa came with a visit to Kenya in 1962. The following year she gave the first of several addresses to the UN special committee on apartheid, and South Africa reciprocated by banning her records. Shortly afterwards, she was the only performer to be invited by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Sellassie I to perform in Addis Ababa at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity.
In 1965 she married her old friend Hugh Masekela before flying to perform in Algeria and at the OAU conference in Accra, Ghana. Backstage at a show in San Francisco, a Kenyan student taught her a song that would become part of her standard repertoire. Called Malaika, it is a Swahili love song that she was wrongly informed was a traditional composition. In 1966 she earned a Grammy award with Belafonte.
Increasingly involved in, and identified with, black consciousness, Miriam became associated with radical activity not just against apartheid but also in the civil rights movement and then black power. In 1967, while in Guinea, she met the Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, who became her next husband.
Carmichael changed his name to Kwame Touré and she returned with him to his own place of exile in Guinea, the West African Marxist state whose leader, Sekou Touré, gave sanctuary to enemies of the capitalist west. In that polygamous country, Makeba eventually separated from her third husband. She turned down a proposal by the president but subsequently became the second wife to a prominent Guinean. When her beloved daughter Bongi died after a traumatic miscarriage, Miriam succumbed to a kind of "spiritual madness" that she believed she had inherited from her mother.
During her time in Guinea, Makeba became a double exile, unable to return home and unwelcome in many western countries (she was banned from France), although she collected a sheaf of diplomatic passports from sympathetic African states and enlivened several independence celebrations. She recruited a pan-African squad of top musicians who were on call to accompany her on frequent foreign trips.
She also endured some bizarre showbusiness episodes. In Denmark, a country where she had solid support, she once failed to appear for a show. She returned some years later only to be jailed for a night until the outstanding financial penalty had been paid on her behalf. There was also controversy in Tanzania over the provenance of Malaika, which several east Africans had claimed to have written. From Guinea she moved to Switzerland, where she married for the fifth time.
When Makeba played at the Royal Festival Hall, London in 1985, it was her first appearance in Britain for 11 years, and also her 53rd birthday. There she replied to the criticism that she had turned her back on the west and had gratuitously insulted white people, notably some unfortunate teachers in Jamaica who had suffered an unjustified, personal attack while watching her perform: "People have accused me of being a racist, but I am just a person for justice and humanity. People say I sing politics but what I sing is not politics, it is the truth. I'm going to go on singing, telling the truth." In 1986 she was awarded the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize for her efforts.
Makeba always took time to endorse the cultural boycott of South Africa, of which she was a figurehead. As the apartheid barriers showed signs of crumbling she was embroiled in another strange episode, which saw ANC supporters boycotting her show at the Royal Albert Hall. She herself was accused of breaking the boycott by collaborating with Paul Simon on his controversial Graceland album (1986). Simon was the one being picketed for not conferring with the exile groups prior to his recruitment drive for South African session players. Makeba and Hugh Masekela gave him full support, however, and welcomed the controversy because it brought important issues into general discussion and made cultural activity even more potent.
To much of the world, Makeba had reached a level of statesmanship that verged on saintliness. She was the first choice performer at festivals as euphoria built up before and after the release of Nelson Mandela in February 1990 and the realisation that apartheid was almost over. After 30 years away, Miriam returned to South Africa to a respectful reception and performed sporadically. But the music business had moved on during her long absence and, despite working with the hot-shot producer and multi-instrumentalist Sipho Mabuse, the opportunities for giving concerts had diminished.
Many younger South Africans had no idea who Miriam Makeba was or what she had struggled for on their behalf. Others recognised her value and she was awarded an honorary degree by the University of Durban, who declared her to be a cultural ambassador for the country; and when she announced her retirement in 2005, she found that "everyone keeps calling me and saying 'You have not come to say goodbye to us!'"
So the farewell tours continued till her death in Naples, apparently from a heart attack after singing for 30 minutes in a concert supporting the movement against organised crime inspired by the writer Roberto Saviano. When Makeba was in Britain last May with her much younger eight-piece band, led by her grandson Nelson Lumumba Lee, John L Walters found her in "confident, clear-voiced form", defying the limitations placed on her mobility by osteoarthritis. Her daughter died in 1985.
Miriam Makeba, singer, born March 4 1932; died November 10 2008
Tuesday November 11, 2008, page C1
Taking Africa With Her to the World
Miriam Makeba during one of her concerts in 1978 (Agence France-Presse Getty Images)
By JON PARELES
To be the voice of a nation speaking to the wider world is a tough mission for any performer. To be the voice of an entire continent is exponentially more difficult. Both were mantles that the South African singer Miriam Makeba took on willingly and forcefully. Despite her lifelong claim that she was not a political singer, she became “Mama Africa” with an activist’s tenacity and a musician’s ear. She died Sunday, at 76, after a concert in Italy.
'Pata Pata' by Miriam Makeba, from the 2004 Heads Up album, Reflections
Miriam Makeba performing barefoot at a concert in Castel Volturno, in southern Italy, on Sunday night, just before she died (Salvatore Laporta/Associated Press)
Treating her listeners as one global community, Ms. Makeba sang in any language she chose, from her own Xhosa to the East African lingua franca Swahili to Portuguese to Yiddish. She also took sides: against South African apartheid and for a worldwide movement against racism, to the point of derailing her career when she married the black power advocate Stokely Carmichael in the late 1960s. (They were divorced in the mid-1970s.) Even during three decades of life as an exile and expatriate the South African government revoked her passport in 1960 she made it clear that South Africa was her home and her bedrock as an artist.
Her voice, more properly voices, were unstoppable. Always cosmopolitan, Ms. Makeba knew her Billie Holiday as well as old Xhosa melodies like “The Click Song,” with its percussive syllables, which became one of her international hits. She could sound light, lilting and girlish; she could be flirtatious, bluesy or utterly exuberant. Her voice also held a layer of rawer, sharper exhortation: the tone of village songs and spirit invocations, the traditions that were her birthright songs she revisited on her 1988 album “Sangoma” (Warner Brothers). Her huge repertory didn’t feature strident protest songs but in love songs and lullabies, party songs and calls for unity there was an indomitable will to survive: a joyful tenacity that could translate as both deep cultural memory and immediate defiance.
She must have been an exotic apparition in the 1960s, upbeat and already a star in South Africa, wowing Europe and then arriving in the United States with support from Harry Belafonte. She had already, bravely, sung in an anti-apartheid documentary, “Come Back, Africa.” In exile she was still an ambassador, showing America and the world an Africa full of vibrant, irresistible sounds: the loping mbube grooves that Paul Simon would rediscover decades later, the flow of African words, the grain of her voice.
Videos on YouTube from 1966 show Ms. Makeba, with her musicians in jackets and ties, performing in an elegant long dress that also happens to have a leopard-skin pattern: supper-club Africana that’s at home on any continent. Her music was different but not forbidding, especially with her own charisma to introduce it. Before anyone was tossing around terms like “world music,” she was creating it, making her heritage portable while preserving its essence.
She was never a purist, but always proud of her roots.
Ms. Makeba arrived during America’s civil-rights struggles and performed at the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s marches. A visible reminder that discrimination stretched beyond the United States, she denounced apartheid in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1963. It’s impossible to guess what she may have been thinking when she sang her 1967 “Pata Pata,” with its bits of English narration “ ‘Pata Pata’ is the name of a dance we do down Johannesburg way” in the full knowledge that she herself would not be welcome back in Johannesburg until a regime change.
Prohibited from returning to South Africa, she settled instead in Guinea, in West Africa, where she participated in that country’s government-assisted movement toward musical “authenticité” merging traditional styles with new instruments and let her repertory stretch further. For a while she also joined Guinea’s United Nations delegation.
Ms. Makeba didn’t have the career of a pop singer, thinking about hits and trends and markets. She followed conscience and history instead, becoming a symbol of integrity and pan-Africanism lending her imprimatur, for instance, by performing on Mr. Simon’s 1987 “Graceland” tour, which carried South African music worldwide while implicitly pointing to the apartheid that still prevailed at home. Through five decades of making music, down to her final studio album, “Reflections,” in 2004 and concerts till the day she died, she sang with a voice that was unmistakably African, and just as unmistakably fearless.
London ~~ Monday November 10, 2008
South African singer Miriam Makeba dies
By Celean Jacobson, AP
Miriam Makeba performs during a political meeting at the Karl Marx Theater in Cuba in 2005 (AFP PHOTO/Adalberto ROQUE)
Miriam Makeba, the South African singer who wooed the world with her sultry voice but was banned from her own country for 30 years under apartheid, died early today after a concert in Italy. She was 76.
The Pineta Grande Clinic, a private clinic near the southern city of Naples, said the singer died after being brought there. The ANSA news agency reported that Makeba apparently suffered a heart attack after performing for 30 minutes at a concert against organized crime.
The death of "Mama Afrika," as she was known, plunged South Africa into shock and mourning.
"One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing," Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said in a statement.
"Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song."
Makeba wrote in her 1987 memoirs that friends and relatives who first encouraged her to perform compared her voice to that of a nightingale. With her distinctive style combining jazz with folk with South African township rhythms, she was often called "The Empress of African Song."
She first started singing in Sophiatown, a cosmopolitan neighborhood of Johannesburg that was a cultural hotspot in the 1950s before its black residents were forcibly removed by the apartheid government.
She then teamed up with South African jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela later her first husband and her rise to international prominence started when she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary "Come Back, Africa" in 1959.
When she tried to fly home for her mother's funeral the following year, she discovered her passport had been revoked. It was 30 years before she was allowed to return.
In 1963, Makeba appeared before the U.N. Special Committee on Apartheid to call for an international boycott of South Africa. The South African government responded by banning her records, including hits like "Pata Pata," "The Click Song" ("Qongqothwane" in Xhosa), and "Malaika."
Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording in 1966 together with Harry Belafonte for "An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba." The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid.
Thanks to her close relationship with Belafonte, she received star status in the United States and performed for President John F. Kennedy at his birthday party in 1962. But she fell briefly out of favor when she married black power activist Stokely Carmichael and moved to Guinea in the late 1960s.
After three decades abroad, Makeba was invited back to South Africa by anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela shortly after his release from prison in 1990 as white racist rule crumbled.
"It was like a revival," she said about going home. "My music having been banned for so long, that people still felt the same way about me was too much for me. I just went home and I cried."
She insisted that her songs were not deliberately political.
"I'm not a political singer," she insisted in an interview with Britain's Guardian newspaper earlier this year. "I don't know what the word means. People think I consciously decided to tell the world what was happening in South Africa. No! I was singing about my life, and in South Africa we always sang about what was happening to us especially the things that hurt us."
Makeba announced her retirement three years ago, but despite a series of farewell concerts she never stopped performing. When she turned 75 last year, she said she would sing for as long as possible.
Graham Gilfillan, Makeba's longtime business manager, said the family was holding a meeting in South Africa and would release a statement.
Arts and Culture Ministry spokesman Sandile Memela described Makeba as an international icon.
"It's a monumental loss not only to South African society in general but for humanity," he said.
Tributes poured in on morning radio talk shows, with many callers in tears as they recalled her humor and her unrelenting spirit.
"She had been part of my life for a long time. It is a great loss," singer P.J. Powers told local radio station 702. "She had a huge soul."
Monday November 10, 2008
Miriam Makeba, 76, Singer and Activist, Dies
By ALAN COWELL
Miriam Makeba, the South African singer whose voice stirred hopes of freedom among millions in her country with music that was banned by the apartheid authorities she struggled against, died overnight after performing at a concert in Italy on Sunday. She was 76.
The cause was cardiac arrest, according to Vincenza Di Saia, a doctor at the private Pineta Grande clinic in Castel Volturno, near Naples, where Ms. Makeba was taken by ambulance. The time of death was listed in hospital records as midnight, the doctor said.
Ms. Makeba collapsed as she was leaving the stage, the South African authorities said. She had been singing at a concert in support of Roberto Saviano, an author who has received death threats after writing about organized crime.
Widely known as “Mama Africa,” Ms. Makeba was a prominent exiled opponent of apartheid since the South African authorities revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she traveled abroad. She was prevented from attending her mother’s funeral after touring in the United States.
Although Ms. Makeba had been weakened by osteoarthritis, her death stunned many in South Africa, where she was an enduring emblem of the travails of black people under the apartheid system of racial segregation. It ended with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the country’s first fully democratic elections in 1994.
In a statement on Monday, Mr. Mandela said the death “of our beloved Miriam has saddened us and our nation.”
“Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years,” he said. “At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us.
“She was South Africa’s first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika. She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours.”
Mr. Mandela’s was one of many tributes from South African leaders.
As a singer, Ms. Makeba merged the ancient and the modern, tradition and individualism. Her 1960s hits “Qongqothwane,” known in English as “The Click Song,” and the dance song “Pata Pata,” which would be remade by many other performers in the next decades, used the tongue-clicking sound that is part of the Xhosa language her family spoke. Traditional African ululation was also one of her many vocal techniques.
But Ms. Makeba was also familiar with jazz and international pop and folk songs, and while South African songs would always be the core of her repertory, she built an ever-expanding repertory in many languages. Her voice was supremely flexible, and she could sound like a young girl or a craggy grandmother within the same song.
Ms. Makeba’s musical career spanned five decades, from 1950s recordings with South African vocal groups the Manhattan Brothers and then her own female group, the Skylarks through her last studio recording, “Reflections” (2004), and her continuing concert performances.
With tenderness, righteousness and playfulness, Ms. Makeba sang love songs, advice songs, spiritual songs, anti-apartheid songs and calls for unity. In bringing African music to other continents, she was a pioneer of what would be called world music, reworking her own heritage for listeners who might never hear it otherwise while creating fusions of her own.
Yet for all her internationalist hybrids, and through three decades as an exile, her music always made it clear that South Africa was her home.
As an exile Ms. Makeba lived variously in the United States, France, Guinea and Belgium. South Africa’s state broadcasters banned her music after she spoke out against apartheid at the United Nations.
“I never understood why I couldn’t come home,” Ms. Makeba said, as quoted by The Associated Press, during an emotional homecoming in Johannesburg in 1990 as the apartheid system began to crumble. “I never committed any crime.”
Music was a central part of the struggle against apartheid. The South African government censored many forms of expression, while many foreign entertainers refused to perform in South Africa and discouraged others from doing so in an attempt to isolate the white authorities and show their opposition to the regime.
From abroad, Ms. Makeba acted as a constant reminder of the events in her homeland as the white power structure struggled to contain or pre-empt unrest among the black majority.
Ms. Makeba wrote in 1987: “I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots. Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa, and the people, without even realizing.”
She was married several times. Her husbands included the American black power activist Stokely Carmichael, with whom she lived in Guinea, and the South African-born jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who also spent many years in exile.
In the United States she became a star, touring with Harry Belafonte in the 1960s and winning a Grammy award with him in 1965 for “An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba.” Such was her following and fame that she sang in 1962 at the birthday party of President John F. Kennedy. She also performed with Paul Simon in his “Graceland” concert in Zimbabwe in 1987.
But she fell afoul of the music industry in the United States because of her marriage to Mr. Carmichael. Scheduled concerts were suddenly being canceled, she said.
“It was not a ban from the government; it was a cancellation by people who felt I should not be with Stokely because he was a rebel to them,” Ms. Makeba said in May in an interview with the British music critic Robin Denselow in The Guardian of London. “I didn’t care about that. He was somebody I loved, who loved me, and it was my life.”
Miriam Zenzi Makeba was born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932, the daughter of a Swazi mother and a father from the Xhosa people, who live mainly in the eastern Cape region of South Africa. She became known to South Africans in the Sophiatown district of Johannesburg in the 1950s before singing professionally with the Manhattan Brothers and then the Skylarks.
Even after becoming a star, Ms. Makeba was often short of money and could not afford to buy a coffin when her only child, her daughter, Bongi, died at 36 in 1985, Agence France-Presse reported. Bongi Makeba was a singer and songwriter who had released an album and had performed with her mother. Ms. Makeba buried her daughter alone, barring a handful of journalists from covering the funeral. No other information on survivors was available.
In 1992, Ms. Makeba starred in “Sarafina!,” a film with Whoopi Goldberg about the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings; Ms. Makeba played the title character’s mother. She also took part in the acclaimed 2002 documentary “Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony,” in which she and others recalled apartheid.
Yet to Ms. Makeba, her music was never intended to further a political agenda; it was far more personal than that.
“I am not a political singer,” she told The Guardian. “I don’t know what the word means. People think I consciously decided to tell the world what was happening in South Africa. No! I was singing about my life, and in South Africa we always sang about what was happening to us especially the things that hurt us.”
Celia W. Dugger contributed reporting from Johannesburg, Rachel Donadio from Rome and Jon Pareles from New York.