Miriam Makeba, a true giant in world music and long time political activist in her native South Africa has died. Known fondly by all as Mama Africa, she died of an apparent heart attack in the early hours of November 10th, shortly after performing at a benefit concert in Italy.
Ms. Makeba first started performing in the early 1950’s and toured South Africa with the. In 1954, she recorded her first international hit, “Pata Pata”. See it below:
In 1959, Makeba starred in an anti-apartheid film, “Come Back, Africa”. This act pushed the South African government to strip her of her citizenship and forced her into a nearly 30 year exile. In the early 1960’s she met Harry Belafonte and recorded An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba earning her a coveted Grammy award. After a few failed marriages she married famed Black Panther, Stokely Carmichael. This had an adverse effect on her musical career. Concerts were cancelled and her music was boycotted. As a result of this new hostility in the US, she moved to Guinea. While in Guinea she championed the anti-apartheid cause, as an ambassador for Guinea to the UN.
In 1987, she toured with Paul Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo as part of the Graceland World Tour. She returned to South Africa in 1991 at the invitation of Nelson Mandela. Mama Africa served as a goodwill ambassador and was active in many causes including HIV-AIDS.
Ms. Makeba was one of the truly great voices of the world. Her place in the pantheon of great female vocalists with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Umm Kultum is undeniable. The voice may have been silenced but the rhythm of her spirit will live forever.