She began her professional singing career in the 1950s as a member of the
Manhattan Brothers, later working with the Skylarks. Her powerful, distinctive
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
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
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 OnlineSouthAfrica.info reporterWould you like to use this article in your publication or on your website?
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Miriam 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)