The Voice of Hope - Miriam Makeba

South Africa's Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba, also known as Mamma Africa was born in 1932 in South Africa. She was named Zenzifrom the expression “Uzenzile” (You only have yourself to blame) which her grandmother used repeatedly through the process of Miriam’s difficult deliver

When the baby was only 18 days old, her mother was put in prison for six months for her beer brewing activities. Little Zenzi spent the first six months of her life in a South African jail, maybe an omen for her later activism.

Featured Vocalist with the Manhattan Brothers

As a young girl, she was often asked to sing at weddings and people were dazzled by her talent. She first came to the attention of the public as a featured vocalist with the Manhattan Brothers in 1954 and then recorded with her all-woman group the Skylarks.

In 1959 she took over the female lead in the jazz musical King Kong”, a story about the life of a boxer. This musical was a hit in South Africa and played in the West End of London in 1961. It had a cast of 72 including Hugh Masekela (whom she’d marry).

Makeba Goes into Exile

In the same year she appeared in an anti-Apartheid film "Come Back Africa". Makeba went to the Venice Film Festival to receive an award for the movie that took her voice around the world. She decided not to return home. Her South African passport was revoked.

In 1963, after an impassioned testimony before the United Nations Committee Against Apartheid, Makeba's records were banned in South Africa and her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country was revoked.

Harry Belafonte organized a US visa for her, and the young, beautiful African woman with the sultry voice conquered US audiences. In 1967, more than ten years after she wrote the song, "Pata Pata" was released in the United States and became a hit worldwide. All over people were doing the "pata pata dance".

Makeba released Pata Pata, the Click song and Mailka in the USA

Miriam Makeba released many of her most famous hits in the USA including Pata Pata, The Click Song (Qongqothwane in Xhosa), and Malaika. In 1966, Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening with Belafonte & Makeba.

Makeba is Boycotted in the USA and Moves to Africa

Miriam Makeba was an overnight sensation, that is, until she became involved with Black Power activist, Stokely Carmichael in 1968 (who she married). Mamma Africa became a persona non grata in the US. The overnight sensation was boycotted mercilessly by promoters and radio stations. Miriam returned to Africa at the invitation of Sékou Touré, at that time President of Guinea, who issued her a diplomat's passport. From there Makeba continued touring and recording, appeared twice as ambassador extraordinary in front of the United Nations, speaking out against apartheid.

Paul Simon's Graceland Tour

But Mamma Africa longed for home. The political climate was changing and in 1987 she featured on Paul Simon’s Graceland Tour, including a very emotional concert in Harare, a few miles from the South African border. This tour opened doors again for Miriam Makeba. She celebrated her triumphant return to the great concert halls of the world, and the greatest prize for her – she was able to go home in 1990.

Mamma Africa comes home

After a lifetime of recording, winning awards, making TV specials and movies – Mriam Makeba, an unstoppable great-grandmother enjoys spending time with her extended family. She has weathered many storms in her life, including several car accidents, a plane crash and even cancer.

Predictably, Miriam Makeba, Mamma Africa is now touring the world with her eight member band. The voice that has been described as "deep as the Indian Ocean and sparkling as the diamonds of her own country" is one of the most valuable assets South Africa has ever exported.

Mamma Africa, Miriam Makeba appeared in a FREE concert in Trafalgar Square on 28 May 2007.

Death of Miriam Makeba

Mamma Africa died on 10 November 2008 of a heart attack in the early hours of the morning after a performance near the southern Italian town of Caserta.

Other Mamma Africa links:

Miriam Makeba's official website at Gallo Records.

A very detailed Fansite by Swedish engineer, Ake Holm, with an excellent discography.
May 4, 2007© Karen Lotter

This Information was retrieved from  .

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