Arts and culture


Remembering Mama Africa: 10 classic Miriam Makeba moments

9 November 2016

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932; she died on 9 November 2008 in Castel Volturno, Italy, following a concert performance.

She began her professional singing career in the 1950s as a member of the Manhattan Brothers, later working with the Skylarks. Her powerful, distinctive voice and fresh approach to mixing traditional African music with newer jazz sounds helped to make her 1956 solo single Pata Pata a national radio hit.

Makeba sang the lead in the local musical King Kong and following an appearance in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa, she left South Africa to reprise her King Kong role on London's West End.

She met American singer Harry Belafonte in 1959, who helped to boost her singing career in the US. Makeba released her first solo album in 1960, featuring her signature hit song, the classic Click Song.

Makeba performed for the American president, John F Kennedy, and appeared on the popular Ed Sullivan television show, which boosted her profile among American audiences. Time magazine called her the "most exciting new singing talent to appear in many years", while Newsweek compared her to Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra.

Unable to return to apartheid South Africa, Makeba lived in exile for the next 30 years.

Makeba and Belafonte married in 1964 and together recorded the Grammy- winning An Evening with… featuring the hits Train Song / Mbombela and Malaika. She was considered one of the innovators of the world music genre and was famed for her idiosyncratic, proudly African fashion sense. She re-recorded Pata Pata in 1967, which become a global smash hit.

Makeba and Belafonte divorced and she went on to married US civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael. She addressed the UN in 1975, calling for global political and economic pressure on South Africa's apartheid government. Makeba later moved to Brussels, Belgium, to focus on family life and her political activism; she also undertook several successful tours on the European jazz circuit.

After touring with Paul Simon on his groundbreaking Graceland tour in 1987, Makeba's music career experienced a revival, and she released her first new music in a decade. She also performed at the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in London, where she performed the song Soweto Blues with Hugh Masekela to an estimated global audience of 600 million.

Makeba returned to South Africa in 1990, after the release of Mandela, and set about creating, alongside other former musical exiles, a new soundtrack for post- apartheid South Africa. Her 1991 album, Eye on Tomorrow, featured performances with American jazz greats Nina Simone and Dizzy Gillespie.

Her final studio album, Homeland, released in 2000, featured an updated version of Pata Pata and earned the singer a Grammy for Best World Music Album.

Makeba suffered a fatal heart attack following a performance in Castel Volturno, in Italy, on 9 November 2008. Grammy Award-winning Beninoise singer Angélique Kidjo curated a performance piece, titled Mama Africa: Celebrating Miriam Makeba, that gathered together African and international female performers to pay tribute to the life and art of Makeba and her groundbreaking role in bringing African music to a global audience.

Source: South African History Online

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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mama africa Miriam Makeba, pata pata, click song, music, jazzMiriam Makeba, affectionately known as Mama Africa, was a South African singer and civil rights activist. In the 1960s, she was the first artist from Africa to popularise African music around the world with songs such as Pata Pata and the Click Song. She died on 9 November 2008. (Image: Miriam Makeba official website)

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