Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Miriam Makeba aka Mother Africa Draws Her Last Breath
MIRIAM MAKEBA: AFRICAN SONGTRESS DIES AT 76
MIRIAM MAKEBA, the Empress of African Soul collapsed on stage in Castel Volturno, Italy during a Sunday solidarity concert on behalf of six Ghanaians who immigrants who were shot to death several months ago.
She died on Monday from a heart attack at the local hospital.
To her dying day, she gave voice to those who no longer had a voice.
MIRIAM MAKEBA was born in South Africa on 03-04-32 and became a famous songtress of South African music and a vocal opponent of the Apartheid policies of the South African Government. After starring in an anti-government documentary that was filmed outside of the country and entitled; "Come back Africa" (1959) she was banned for over 30 years from returning to her home country. Becoming the most famous performer out of "Black Africa" she was called "Mama Africa".
I clearly remember as a kid my mother playing this strange rhythmic song called "Pata Pata." Although I didn't understand the language there was something in the quality of her voice that compelled me to listen. I would continue to listen for years.
It was followed by another strange (to African-American me) yet intriguing composition "The Click Song" ("Qongqothwane" in Xhosa), where she used a language composed of a tongue clicking sound which was and the native-speak in Xhosa. This was as educational as it was enthralling. Miriam Makeba used her gift of song to teach us new and important things about the world she inhabited, and those of us who listened, we were all the better for it.
In later years, it was she who inspired me to pen a poem that became my first piece published in the National magazine, Essence:
**"I dreamed you were
Composed in Makeba clicks
And hypnotic chants. I dreamed
An ancient dance of
During her career she had performed with several musical legends from around the world including NINA SIMONE, DIZZY GILLESPIE, PAUL SIMON & HARRY BELAFONTE. Her work with HARRY BELAFONTE lead to her 1960’s American Grammy Award. She also sang for world leaders such as the late President John F. Kennedy and South African President Nelson Mandela. During her personal life she was once married to South African trumpeter HUGH MASAKELA "Grazing in the Grass" (1968, #1 Pop/RnB) from 1964-66.
Also she was married to the Black Power Activist Stokely Carmichael from 1968-78. Carmichael changed his name to an Africanized one and became the President of the African Country of Guinea.
MIRIAM MAKEBA announced her retirement three years ago, but true to her art, the woman never stop performing. It was on her 75th birthday that said, she "would sing for as long as possible…..and will until the last day of my life!"
When one loves the beauty of their country, and yet decries its ugliness in song, in activism, and in the very spirit of their artistry, perhaps the best way to die is in expressing your soul in music before a crowd that loves and appreciate it.
Rest in Peace, Mother Africa!
** excerpt from the poem "Art Groupie Exile," ~by L.M. Ross