Monday, November 10, 2008

Miriam Makeba: Musical Mother of South Africa

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Mail and Guardian
JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

Nelson Mandela praised Miriam Makeba as a "mother" of modern South Africa, who gave voice to the anti-apartheid struggle, as tributes poured in on Monday for the legendary singer.

Makeba (76), who was widely known as "Mama Africa," collapsed on Sunday after a concert in Italy. She later died of a heart attack in hospital.

"She was South Africa's first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Africa. She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours," Mandela said in a statement.

"Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation, which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us," he said.

The African National Congress, which spearheaded the anti-apartheid struggle, hailed her musical contribution to the fight against the white-minority government.

"The passing of this African songstress leaves a gaping hole in the cultural life of our country and the African continent," said party leader Jacob Zuma.

"Miriam Makeba used her voice, not merely to entertain, but to give a voice to the millions of oppressed South Africans under the yoke of apartheid," said Zuma.

"Miriam was an indefatigable African patriot who used her immense talent in the service of her people and the struggle for freedom and democracy, not only in South Africa, but in the continent as a whole."

Fellow African musical giant Youssou Ndour mourned her death as a loss to the world's music.

"It really is a great loss for Africa, for African music and all music," he told a Senegalese radio station. "She was somebody who did a lot for Africa, and in general for black people. It is a great loss."


In Sierra Leone, where Makeba was well known for frequent weekend shopping trips or playing concerts when she lived in neighbouring Guinea in the early 1990s, radio stations played her songs, including her famous hit Pata Pata.

"We have received the death with shock as she has no comparison," said Samuel Richards, a senior Culture Ministry official.

'We will surely miss her'

Cote d'Ivoire President Laurent Gbagbo said one of the continent's finest voices had disappeared, while the South African government also mourned her.

"One of the greatest songstresses of our time, Miriam Makeba has ceased to sing," said Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma.

Fellow artists remembered her as someone who nurtured young musicians.

"She is a legend. We will surely, surely miss her," South African diva Yvonne Chaka Chaka said.

"She was a mother, a friend, an extraordinary woman who survived many tribulations in her life. She was an icon," said Gugu Sibiya, the arts and entertainment editor of the Sowetan

Veteran Congolese musician Ray Lema praised her for taking African music to the world.

"She was the first great African singer to take the voice of Africa beyond Africa. She was a passionate artist and a great activist," the 62-year-old jazz pioneer said in Paris.

"It was a beautiful death, worthy of her memory. I would be proud to go like that," he said.

Makeba, famed for hits such as Pata Pata and The Click Song, died of a heart attack in a Naples hospital after she collapsed as she left the stage at a benefit concert in Castel Volturno on Sunday.

Born in Johannesburg on March 4 1932, Makeba was one of Africa's best known singers. While Mandela was in prison, she took up the battle against apartheid through her music.

South Africa revoked her citizenship in 1960 and even refused to let her return for her mother's funeral. Makeba spent more than three decades in exile, living in the United States, Guinea and Europe.



Click here to listen to Miriam sing "Khawuleza," recorded in 1966.

6 comments:

Regina said...

An awesome loss...
when I was young my mother would play her albums and I was spellbound by her voice. Too me someone who would sacrifice living in her own homeland to speak out about injustice is worthy of so much honor. There seem to be so many who did not even know of her...very sad.
Thanks for the great post.
Blessings!

neversad said...

You know, my life appreciating all types of music, I can say that there are some types I haven't heard. The other morning my alarm clock radio activated to the time that is programmed (4:50AM) to hear the news of Miriam Makeba's death. I have to say that her music for my 57 years has not graced my ears, until now. My loss then, my gain now. The comments from the radio announcers about "Mama Africa's" history and legacy were intriguing and fascinating. As a course of gaining knowledge, I checked Ms. Makeba's internet connections. She was a great woman and now I am grateful to have her among my spiritual friends. Life is indeed a learning experience.

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Regina,
Mama Makeba was a regal and heroic woman. She spoke out and stood up for her people! God bless her soul. I hope more people will learn about her, even now after her passing. She feels like a member of my family.
Thanks for commenting.
Peace and blessings,
Alicia

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Neversad,
I'm very happy that you've finally found Mama Makeba. She was a brave and gifted woman. I'll have to introduce my daughter to her sweet sounds.
Thanks for commenting.
Peace and blessings,
Alicia

tikno said...

Great post!
It's interesting to know people with noble-heart. Here in Indonesia, we also have "Ibu Kartini" (in English "mother Kartini"). Long years ago, she did a campaign for the women's right (women equality with man) and now become our nation's hero.

Alicia Michele Benjamin said...

Tikno,
Thanks for the compliment.
I did a brief reading about "Mother Kartini" after you mentioned her. What a POWERFUL woman. More girls and women need to read about her.
What do you and the people you know think about Obama's win? I know he actually lived in Indonesia for a while. What are the people there saying?
Peace,
Alicia