Thursday, November 13, 2008

Rest In Peace, Miriam Makeba

I've been counting many blessings recently. Among those not detailed under the "Giving Thanks" post below, I'm grateful to have white water rafted the Nile River, witnessed the Uganda Cranes National Football team beat Benin, helped build a chicken coop for 24 kids in need, etc. And I'm counting my blessings, once again, that I got to see "Mama Africa" alive and well in Kampala, at Uganda's first International Jazz Festival just one month ago.

After seeing a newspaper photo of her shortly after her arrival at the Entebbe Airport, I was worried that she might be performing from a wheelchair. I'm happy to report that at 76 years old, Mama Africa was not only on her feet during the entire hour long show, she actually danced the whole night, and put on a first rate performance which left the crowd showering her with a standing ovation.

She is truly a legend whose warrior queen's heart will be missed.

Miriam Makeba, South African songstress, dies at 76


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 performing at a concert in Italy. She was 76.

The Associated Press quoted hospital officials as saying she had died following a heart attack after being taken to a hospital in Castel Volturno near Naples in southern Italy. She had been singing at a concert in support of Roberto Saviano, an author who has received death threats since writing about organized crime. Makeba collapsed as she was leaving the stage, the South African authorities said.

Although she had been weakened by osteoarthritis, her death stunned many in South Africa, where she stood as an enduring emblem of the travails of black people under the apartheid system of racial segregation that ended with the release from prison of Nelson Mandela in 1990 and the first fully democratic elections in the country in 1994.

"One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing," Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in a statement. "Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song."

Widely known as "Mama Africa," she was a prominent exiled opponent of apartheid after the South African authorities revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she had traveled abroad. She was prevented from attending her mother's funeral after touring in the United States.

For 31 years, Makeba lived in exile, variously in the United States, France, Guinea and Belgium. South African state broadcasters banned her music after she spoke out against apartheid at the United Nations in 1976 - the year of the Soweto uprising that accelerated the demands of the black majority for democratic change.

"I never understood why I couldn't come home," Makeba said at an emotional homecoming in Johannesburg in 1990 as the apartheid system began to crumble, according to The AP. "I never committed any crime."

Music was a central part of the struggle against apartheid. The South African authorities of the era exercised strict censorship of many forms of expression, while many foreign entertainers discouraged performances in South Africa in an attempt to show their opposition to apartheid.

From exile she acted as a constant reminder of the events in her homeland as the white authorities struggled to contain or pre-empt unrest among the black majority.

Makeba wrote in 1987: "I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots. Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa, and the people, without even realizing."

She was married several times and her husbands included the American black activist Stokely Carmichael, with whom she lived in Guinea, and the jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who also spent many years in exile.

In the United States she became a star, touring with Harry Belafonte in the 1960s and winning a Grammy award with him in 1965. Such was her following and fame that she sang in 1962 at the birthday party of President John F. Kennedy.

But she fell afoul of the American music industry because of her marriage to Carmichael and her decision to live in Guinea.

In one of her last interviews, in May 2008 with the British music critic Robin Denselow, she said she had found her concerts in the United States being canceled. "It was not a ban from the government," she said. "It was a cancellation by people who felt I should not be with Stokely because he was a rebel to them."

Makeba was born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932, the daughter of a Swazi mother and a father from the Xhosa people. She became known to South Africans in Johannesburg in the 1950s.

In her interview in 2008, Makeba said: "I'm not a political singer. I don't know what the word means. People think I consciously decided to tell the world what was happening in South Africa. No! I was singing about my life, and in South Africa we always sang about what was happening to us - especially the things that hurt us."

Check out her videos:


Blogger klewis said...

Good ish, Zik!
Glad to know ur still alive. sounds like things are going well for ya!

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Azikiwe, your father joined my site at and told me about you - your story of the thugs is incredible and the comparison to Bush vs. Obama is timely. Glad to hear that you came through physically and spiritually healthy.

8:05 AM  

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