Mama Africa

on Tuesday, December 02, 2008

"Miriam Zenzi Makeba, singer and activist, born March 4 1932; died November 10 2008."

I was thinking of a topic for a post when suddenly "The Click Song" came to mind. This song was made famous by Miriam Zensi Makeba the South African songbird. However when I started searching around for videos of the song, I discovered that this great artist, at the age of 76, collapsed and died just last month in Naples, Italy, while performing on stage at a concert in memory of six Ghanian immigrants killed apparently in a gang slaying.

So now the purpose of this post, is more than introducing an interesting song but to also mark the passing of a great woman. She was known as Mama Africa Makeba and loved not just for her songs but for being one of the most vocal and visible anti-apartheid champions. Shortly after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960, Miriam heard that her mother had died, but her own South African passport had been revoked and she was prevented from returning home for the funeral. Thus began 30 years of exile.

She initially stayed in the USA and collaborated with Harry Belafonte on some projects and won a Grammy with him in 1966. Her first return to the continent of Africa came with a visit to Kenya in 1962. The following year she gave the first of several addresses to the UN special committee on apartheid, and South Africa reciprocated by banning her records. Shortly afterwards, she was the only performer to be invited by the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie to perform in Addis Ababa at the inauguration of the Organisation of African Unity.

She also became involved in the civil rights movement in America and was popular in many countries (she was given citizenship by 9 countries). However, some of her actions were also controversial and loss her some popular support. Nevertheless, she remained well known and loved and was called to sing in the concerts celebrating Nelson Mandela's release from prison.

The Click Song is the English name ("Qongqothwane" in Xhosa) because the song involves the "click" sound which is found in some southern african language but has no equivalent in English.

She also collaborated with Paul Simon in the Graceland album project and took part in a number of his African tour concerts.


meggie said...

Very nice tribute post. It is always sad when great talent leaves this plain.

Janice Thomson said...

I love her music and did not know she had passed. The world has lost a great soul.

geewits said...

Great music. I think it's quite common when people are involved in very big political movements to have some controversial moments. I think it's just the nature of the beast. I hope someone publishes a biography of her life - I bet it would be fascinating.

the walking man said...

It is too bad that the old generation of activists are passing without having had the ability to pass on the better parts of their character to the new.

Jo said...

LGS, I am just catching up on visiting my favorite blogs, and I read your last few posts. Congratulations on your award!

I was sad to hear of Miriam Makeba's passing too. My mother was born and raised in South Africa, and she could speak Xhosa, and could do that click. So I always felt an affinity for Miriam Makeba. She was a very interesting person.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

She seemed to have remained true to her passion all through her life. Her passing should be noted.

I only discovered her music lately. It must have been nice to have followed her interesting career.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

When I was preparing for this post, I think I remember reading that someone has written her biography. Don't remember more than that though.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

I do hope that there are some people of similar caliber in the activists of today too.

Thanks for the good wishes. It is interesting that your mom could speak Xhosa and make that click sound. I can't imagine how to do it!

Eastcoastdweller said...

This is what I love about blogging -- everyday folk -- well, truth is, LGS, you are far above that, far above average -- can help to immortalize great events and great people like this, even without agents and printing presses.

And thank you for sharing Her story on FLOW, too.

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