Monday, November 10, 2008

Miriam Makeba dies at 76 - Mon 11/10/2008

Miriam Makeba, in her album Sangoma, was perhaps one of my first connections to contemporary African culture. A great reflection on her musical career below:

Miriam Makeba—South African Singer, Composer and Activist—Died Sunday at the age of 76
Afropop Asks You to Share Your Reflections With the Afropop Community

We are sad to report that Miriam Makeba, one of Africa’s all-time great artists and ambassador for the continent, died of a heart attack while performing in Italy on Sunday, November 9, 2008.

There are dozens of career summaries and press reports published (just google “Miriam Makeba Dies at 76”). Our bio of Miriam is below but we’d like to start with something more personal. We are asking the Afropop community to send in your own reflections or memories or photos of Miriam. We will publish them later in the week and send them to the Makeba family. For the story of her life in her own words, we highly recommend her autobiography “Makeba, My Story.” Two of our favorite albums from the latter part of her career are “Sangoma” and “Homeland.”

Sean Barlow, Executive Producer, Afropop Worldwide:
“The last time I saw Miriam perform was in Soweto on Easter Monday 2004. I was in South Africa reporting on the tenth anniversary of the end of apartheid and the beginning of the new non-racial democracy spotlighted by the inauguration of Nelson Mandela. The theme of the concert in Soweto that day was “South African Divas” and featured the greats of South African women singers. The crowd was almost entirely black and we felt very much welcomed. I felt so lucky to be there. One by one the ladies took the stage and gave stellar performances—Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Dorothy Masuka & Dolly Rathebe, (who along with Miriam were the fabulously successful Skylarks in the 1950’s), the Mahotella Queens, Brenda Fassie (her last performance), Thandiswa, and to cap the evening, Miriam. The audience up front pressing against the fence were mostly teenage girls. Despite their two generation age gap, these girls were transfixed, their faces glowing. To bridge a 50 something age difference is no small feat. I wondered what was going through their heads—enjoyment of the songs, an electric feeling of being close to an icon who meant so much for the anti-apartheid struggle internationally and nationally, a role model of how a woman could rise to the top of her field. Probably all the above. For the girls in Soweto that day and for everyone whose music and life she touched, thank you Mama Africa!!" (Please add your own memories and reflections.)

Afropop’s Account of Miriam Makeba’s Career

Miriam Makeba--"Mama Africa" to many around the world--ranks as South Africa's greatest musical ambassador. Born in 1932, Makeba had already weathered the death of her father, a bout with breast cancer, childbirth and the first of five marriages before she turned twenty.

From her start in a church choir, Makeba went on to sing professionally under the strong influence of her American idols, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Makeba left the popular Manhattan Brothers to join the traveling show African Jazz and Variety, which toured southern Africa for 18 months. She also formed a hugely successful trio with Dorothy Masuka and Dolly Rathebe. Makeba's superior voice then earned her the lead in the ground-breaking show King Kong, and a film part in Come Back Africa.

Suddenly an international star, Makeba then played at President Kennedy's birthday and worked with Harry Belafonte in New York to create African classics including "The Click Song," and "Pata Pata." After the South African government canceled her passport in 1960, Makeba spent decades in exile living mostly in the US, and then in Guinea, where she retreated for nine years after her marriage to black power activist Stokely Carmichael soured her reputation with mainstream American media and the music industry.

Makeba returned to the world stage in 1986 when she joined Paul Simon on the Graceland tour. She writes in her autobiography, “Makeba, My Story,” that music helped her wrestle the dangerous amadlozi spirits her mother passed on to her. She dedicates her exquisite 1988 album “Sangoma,” rich in tradition, to her mother. After turmoil, tragedy and controversy, Makeba returned to a free South Africa as a favorite daughter. Her work included a tour and recording session with jazz great Dizzy Gillespie, who died in 1993, as well as a critically acclaimed comeback album, "Homeland," released in 2000, and nominated for a Grammy Award in 2001.

--Banning Eyre, Senior Editor,

More information:

Miriam Makeba, South African songstress, dies at 76
International Herald Tribune - 4 hours ago
By Alan Cowell LONDON: Miriam Makeba, a South African singer whose voice stirred hopes of freedom among millions in her own country though her music was formally banned by the apartheid authorities she struggled against, died early Monday after ...
Video: South African legend Miriam Makeba dies - 10 Nov 2008
Video: South African legend Miriam Makeba dies - 10 Nov 2008 AlJazeeraEnglish
South Africa mourns Makeba, nation's musical 'mother' AFP
GMA - Los Angeles Times - Hindu - United Press International
all 1,124 news articles »

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