Makeba, Miriam

▪ 2009
Zensi Miriam Makeba; “Mama Afrika” 
      South African singer

born March 4, 1932, Prospect township, near Johannesburg, S.Af.

died Nov. 10, 2008, Castel Volturno, near Naples, Italy
was one of the world's most prominent black African performers, though she spent some three decades (1960–91) in exile from her South African homeland (which responded to her antiapartheid stands by banning her songs and revoking her passport) until Nelson Mandela encouraged her return after his 1990 release from prison. Makeba released some 50 albums (original and compilations) and appeared on the recordings of other musicians. She especially excelled at Xhosa and Zulu songs, which she introduced to Western audiences, and her best-known songs, including “Pata Pata” and “The Click Song” (“Qongqothwane”), featured the distinctive click sounds of her native Xhosa language. Makeba was the daughter of a Swazi mother and a Xhosa father. She grew up in Sophiatown, a segregated black township outside Johannesburg, and began singing in a school choir at an early age. She became a professional vocalist in 1954, and by the late 1950s she was well known in South Africa. Her appearance in the documentary film Come Back, Africa (1959) attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte, among others. With their help Makeba settled (1959) in the U.S., where she embarked on a successful career. In 1965 she and Belafonte won a Grammy Award for best folk recording for their album An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. Makeba was married to South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela (1964–66) and to West Indian-born American black activist Stokely Carmichael (1968–78). She relocated with Carmichael to Africa, settled in Guinea, and then moved to Belgium, continuing to record and tour in Africa and Europe. In April 1991 she gave her first concert in South Africa in more than 30 years. Her autobiography, Makeba: My Story (coauthored with James Hall), appeared in 1988.

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▪ South African singer
in full  Zensi Miriam Makeba  
born March 4, 1932, Prospect Township, near Johannesburg, South Africa
died Nov. 10, 2008, Castel Volturno, near Naples, Italy
 South African-born singer who became known as Mama Afrika, one of the world's most prominent black African performers in the 20th century.

      The daughter of a Swazi mother and a Xhosa father, Makeba grew up in Sophiatown, a segregated black township outside of Johannesburg and began singing in a school choir at an early age. She became a professional vocalist in 1954, performing primarily in southern Africa. By the late 1950s her singing and recording had made her well-known in South Africa, and her appearance in the documentary film Come Back, Africa (1959) attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte (Belafonte, Harry) and other American performers. With their help, Makeba in 1959 settled in the United States, where she embarked on a successful singing and recording career. She sang a variety of popular songs but especially excelled at Xhosa and Zulu songs, which she introduced to Western audiences. She was denied reentry into South Africa in 1960, and she lived in exile for three decades thereafter. In 1963 the South African apartheid government banned her records and revoked her passport. In 1964 she married trumpeter and fellow Belafonte protégé Hugh Masekela. Although the couple divorced two years later, they maintained a close professional relationship. In 1965 she and Belafonte won a Grammy Award for best folk recording for their album An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba.

      Makeba married the American black activist Stokely Carmichael (Carmichael, Stokely) in 1968 (divorced 1979), a circumstance that led to the decline of her career in the United States. She relocated with Carmichael to Africa, settled in Guinea, and then moved to Belgium, continuing to record and tour in Africa and Europe. Her autobiography, Makeba: My Story (coauthored with James Hall), appeared in 1988. In 1990 the South African black activist Nelson Mandela (Mandela, Nelson), who had just been released from his extended imprisonment on Robbins Island, encouraged Makeba to return to South Africa, and she performed there in 1991 for the first time since her exile. Although she was plagued by health problems, she continued to perform in subsequent years, and she died of a heart attack shortly after giving a concert in Italy.

      Among the songs for which she is internationally known are "Pata Pata" and one known as the "Click Song" in English ( "Qongqothwane" in Xhosa). Makeba made 30 original albums, in addition to 19 compilation albums and appearances on the recordings of several other musicians.

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Universalium. 2010.

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