Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a Grammy Award-winning South African singer and civil rights activist.
In the 1960s she was the first artist from Africa to popularize African music in the U.S. and around the world. She is best known for the song "Pata Pata", first recorded in 1957 and released in the U.S. in 1967. She recorded and toured with many popular artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and her former husband Hugh Masekela.
She actively campaigned against the South African system of apartheid. As a result, the South African government revoked her citizenship and right of return. After the end of apartheid she returned home. She died on 9 November 2008 after performing in a concert in Italy organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the region of Campania.
Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer-herbalist). Her father, who died when she was six years old, was a Xhosa. When she was eighteen days old, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African homemade beer brewed from malt and cornmeal. Her mother was sentenced to a six-month prison term, so Miriam spent her first six months of life in jail. As a child, she sang in the choir of the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, a primary school that she attended for eight years.
At the age of eighteen, Makeba gave birth to her only child, Bongi Makeba, whose father was Makeba's first husband, James Kubay. Makeba was then diagnosed with breast cancer, and her husband left her shortly afterwards.
Her professional career began in the 1950s when she was featured in the South African jazz group the Manhattan Brothers, and appeared for the first time on a poster. She left the Manhattan Brothers to record with her all-woman group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa. As early as 1956, she released the single "Pata Pata", which was played on all the radio stations and made her known throughout South Africa.
She had a short-lived marriage in 1959 to Sonny Pillay, a South African singer of Indian descent. Her break came in that year when she had a short guest appearance in Come Back, Africa, an anti-apartheid documentary produced and directed by American independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. The short cameo made an enormous impression on the viewers and Rogosin managed to organise a visa for her to attend the première of the film at the twenty-fourth Venice Film Festival in Italy, where the film won the prestigious Critics' Award. That year, Makeba sang the lead female role in the Broadway-inspired South African musical King Kong; among those in the cast was musician Hugh Masekela. She made her U.S. debut on 1 November 1959 on The Steve Allen Show.
Death and legacy
On 9 November 2008, she became ill while taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the Region of Campania. The concert was being held in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy. Makeba suffered a heart attack after singing her hit song "Pata Pata", and was taken to the "Pineta Grande" clinic where doctors were unable to revive her. Her publicist notes that Makeba had suffered "severe arthritis" for some time. She and family members were based in Northriding, Gauteng, at the time of her death.
On 25, 26 and 27 September 2009, a tribute show to Makeba entitled "Hommage à Miriam Makeba" and curated by Grammy Award-winning Beninoise singer-songwriter and activist Angélique Kidjo for the Festival d'Ile de France, was held at the Cirque d'hiver in Paris. The same show but with the English title of "Mama Africa: Celebrating Miriam Makeba" was held at the Barbican in London on 21 November 2009. Mama Africa, a documentary film about the life of Miriam Makeba, co-written and directed by Finnish film director Mika Kaurismäki, was released in 2011.
Makeba during a performance
|Birth name||Zenzile Miriam Makeba|
|Also known as||Mama Afrika|
|Born||4 March 1932|
Prospect Township, Johannesburg, South Africa
|Died||9 November 2008 (aged 76)|
Castel Volturno, Italy
|Genres||Marabi, World music, folk, pop rock, jazz|
|Labels||Manteca, RCA, Mercury Records, Kapp Records,Collectables, Suave Music,Warner Bros., PolyGram, Drg, Stern's Africa, Kaz, Sonodisc|