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Giant Steps: Miriam Makeba

Monday, 13 February 2017 10:42

They call her Mama Africa. Miriam Makeba was literally born ready to fight her oppressors. Spending the first six months of her life in a South African prison with her mother, who had been arrested during the brutally oppressive apartheid period.

Miriam Makeba’s life began looking out at world that’s sole purpose was to break her, make her small, feed her a steady diet of indignity. The world was not ready for the petite woman, with the powerful, yet graceful continence and distinctive voice.

Makeba was always a singer...she was part of various singing groups in 1950’s South Africa. She was drawn to the traditional music of South Africa but  fused it with American Jazz. By the time she hit her early 20’s she had a hit with a tune called Pata Pata. The world took notice...she was invited to Venice, she flew to London and  met Harry Belafonte. And as her star began to shine...her country of birth attempted to dull her sparkle. 

How dare she, a black woman travel the world, how dare she be invited to sing for and talk with John F. Kennedy. She did not know her place, so the apartheid government revoked her citizenship, ripped up her passport. Miriam Makeba was without a country but she did not stop singing OR speaking out in an effort to end apartheid, if anything her voice got louder.

She married famed black panther Stokely Carmichael and her voice grew stronger and more militant. She had previously been married to the the jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela, a powerful musical pairing. All the while she took every opportunity to fight the oppressive regime in her home country and lend her voice to civil rights movements around the world. Mama Africa did eventually return to her country, the year 1990. She had been exiled for close to 40 years. Apartheid had been toppled.

In 91’ she recorded the incredible Eyes on Tomorrow with Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Masekela and embarked on years of touring with Gillespie. Miriam Makeba was a true international phenom who has heart never gave up on her home country.
In her own words…. I look at an ant and I see myself: a native South African, endowed by nature with a strength much greater than my size.

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