Miriam Makeba was a legendary South African singer and civil rights activist.
Born Zenzile Miriam on the March 4, 1932, Makeba was the first artist from Africa to popularise African music around the world.
Her distinctive vocal harmonic voice brought Xhosa, Zulu and Swahil songs to western audiences. Makeba’s extreme versatility resulted in an eclectic mix of styles that included English ballads, Portuguese fados, Brazilian bossa novas, Hebrew and Yiddish melodies, Haitian chants, and other folk and popular styles from around the world.
Affectionately nicknamed Mama Africa, Miriam Makeba, began her professional singing career with the Manhattan Brothers, a South African jazz group in the 1950s.
Following her rising star, Makeba quit the Manhattan Brothers to blend jazz and traditional South African melodies with her all women group, The Skylarks.
Her first hit single the ‘Pata Pata’ song, recoded in 1957, sexually satirizes the police’s method of frisking and ushered in a new genre of anti-apartheid music. The combination of anti-apartheid lyrics and the sensual dance style of ‘Patha Patha’ was contagious.
Her role in the 1959 documentary film Come Back, Africa attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte, who helped her settle in the United States.
In 1960, Mama Africa’s campaign against the South African apartheid regime resulted in her passport being revoked and in 1963 her citizenship and right of return.
Makeba collaborated with popular international artists like Paul Simon, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Harry Belafonte and South African Artists like Brenda Fassie and her former husband Hugh Masekela.
Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording for An Evening with Belafonte & Makeba recoded at Carnegie Hall in 1966.
In 1968, Makeba married Stokely Carmichael, a Trinidadian-American civil rights activist. The couple settled in Guinea, and later moved to Belgium.
In addition to numerous music awards throughout her career, Mama Africa received awards from the Bedford Stuyvesant community, UNESCO, Corita Kent Foundation and others for her dedication to civil rights and peace.
Following her 30 year exile, on 10 June 1990, Miriam Makeba returned home to South Africa to a queen’s reception, a fitting response for one of the most important South African female vocalists.
Makeba recorded 30 original albums and 19 compilation albums, and had collaborated with other musicians on several other projects.
Mama Africa passed in 2008 at the age of 76, she will be remembered for her huge contribution to south African music and civil rights.