Remembering Miriam Makeba

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Today marks 10 years since Miriam Makeba’s untimely passing. She was a phenomenal South African singer, songwriter, actress, United Nations goodwill ambassador, and civil-rights activist.

Miriam Makeba began her music career singing for the Cuban Brothers, and later joined the Manhattan Brothers in 1954 where she began to build a reputation. She toured South Africa, Zimbabwe and the Congo with the band until 1957. After this, Makeba sang for the Skylarks, an all-women group which combined jazz and traditional African melodies.

Makeba’s appearances in the films ‘Come Back Africa’ (1957) and as the female lead in Todd Matshikiza’s ‘King Kong’ (1959) cemented her reputation in the music industry both locally and abroad.

She quickly got into trouble with the South African authorities over her role in ‘Come Back Africa’ – which they saw as painting a negative image of the country. Having travelled to Venice to receive an award for her role in the film, Makeba decided not to return to South Africa and the government revoked her passport and denied her the possibility of returning. She was the first black musician to leave South Africa on account of apartheid. Over the years many others would follow her. Makeba lived in exile for 31 years, only returning to South Africa in 1990.

The musical icon took Afro pop and African jazz to the world stage whilst living in forced exile, starting with her first solo album in 1960, recorded in New York. Makeba’s journey featured many highlights, from working with musical greats such as Harry Belafonte, to becoming the first African recording artist to win a Grammy award. Pata Pata, The Click Song, and Soweto Blues are but a few of the songs by Makeba that will forever echo in our households.

Continue to rest in perfect peace, Mama Africa.


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