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Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba Biography 

Early years

Miriam Makeba (Xhosa Musician)Zenzile Miriam Makeba (Mama Afrika) was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer-herbalist). Her father, who died when she was six years old, was a Xhosa. When she was eighteen days old, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African homemade beer brewed from malt and cornmeal. Her mother was sentenced to a six-month prison term, so Miriam spent her first six months of life in jail. As a child, she sang in the choir of the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, a primary school that she attended for eight years.
In 1950 at the age of eighteen, Makeba gave birth to her only child, Bongi Makeba, whose father was Makeba’s first husband James Kubay. Makeba was then diagnosed with breast cancer, and her husband left her shortly afterwards.
Her professional career began in the 1950s when she was featured in the South African jazz group the Manhattan Brothers, and appeared for the first time on a poster. She left the Manhattan Brothers to record with her all-woman group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa. As early as 1956, she released the single “Pata Pata”, which was played on all the radio stations and made her name known throughout South Africa.
She had a short-lived marriage in 1959 to Sonny Pillay, a South African singer of Indian descent. Her break came in that year when she had a short guest appearance in Come Back, Africa, an anti-apartheid documentary produced and directed by American independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. The short cameo made an enormous impression on the viewers and Rogosin managed to organise a visa for her to attend the première of the film at the twenty-fourth Venice Film Festival in Italy, where the film won the prestigious Critics’ Award. That year, Makeba sang the lead female role in the Broadway-inspired South African musical King Kong; among those in the cast was musician Hugh Masekela. She made her U.S. debut on 1 November 1959 on The Steve Allen Show.

SOUTH Africa’s legendary musical sensation, Miriam Makeba, returned to her homeland after 30 years in exile, still has something to sing about. Her career continues to soar, the demands for performances from countries around the world continue to flood in. 1998 was spent touring Africa, USA and Europe. Touring has always been successfull all over. When touring Scandinavia,as an example, Miriam sold out the longest tour ever made there, she sold out theatres beyond the Polar Circle too.

Miriam Makeba (Mama Afrika) with Nelson Mandela

In 1995 Miriam Makeba started a charity project to raise funds to protect women in South Africa. She closed the year ’95 in Italy: an audience with the Pope John Paul II, and a performance at the Vatican Nervi Hall, that had been televised world-wide in December and titled ‘Christmas In The Vatican’. From a photographic shoot with lman Bowie and David Bowie for Vogue America, to her pre-sold tour through Australia performing at the Brisbane Biennial, in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth, and repeated tours to Europe performing in Italy, Germany, Austria, USA, an invitation by President Ben Ali of Tunisia to perform at Carthage Music Festival, performance with Marianne Faithful and Dee Dee Bridgewater, to Paris the ‘La Marche Du Siecle” television program regarding woman.

In South Africa alone, performances were staged, many television shows were filmed, her documentary,done by The South Bank Show,was released and presented at the Cannes Film Festival, flighted in the USA, UK, France, Australia, Tunisia and many more countries.She performed for the President, Mr. Nelson Mandela. Endorsements for anti-drug campaigns, supporting education, The Orlando Children’s Home, interviewing Mrs. Tambo on People of the South presented by Dali Tambo to finally becoming a great-grandmother.

Miriam Makeba is now touring the world with her eight member band, introducing new songs and ballads with all-time success.

Miriam’s recent compact discs “Sing Me A Song” and “Eyes on Tomorrow” (Polydor) and the new release, “The Legend Lives On”are rich in emotion,with remarkable duets, proving once more that the voice that has been described as “deep as the Indian Ocean and sparkling as the diamonds of her own country” is one of the most valuable assets ever exported. Released worldwide, the compact discs feature a collection of songs – from upbeat to the plaintive – showing the vocal range and power of this celebrated performer.

Born in Johannesburg in 1932, Miriam began her career as the vocalist for The Manhattan Brothers. Her appearance in the late 50’s in the documentary “Come Back Africa” led to invitations for her to visit Europe and America, where she came to the attention of Harry Belafonte and Steve Allen ,and was catapulted to stardom.

In 1960 Miriam was banned from returning to the country of her birth, and was forced to spend the next 30 years as a “citizen of the world”.

But despite the pain of isolation from her home, the United States took her to its collective heart with performances at the country’s most prestigious venues, as well as constant television performances.

Her 1967 release of “Pata Pata” became a hit worldwide and has since been re-recorded by numerous international artists. Her recording career blossomed and she released records for RCA, Reprise and many others. She was received by such world leaders as Haile Selassie, Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy and François Mitterrand.

Miriam Makeba has been a Guinean delegate to the United Nations where she twice addressed the General Assembly, speaking out against the evils of apartheid.

Although always regarding herself as a singer and not as a politician, Miriam’s fearless humanitarianism has earned her many International awards, including the 1986 Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize.

Through the years both Miriam’s personal and professional life have been equally tumultuous with her highly public commitment to and continuous fight for racial equality; Miriam is Mama Africa, a peace and freedom warrior that restlessly gave and still gives voice to millions of people against the evils of all racism. Her exceptional personal and artistic profile is part of the history of this century, all adding to the dramatic elements of an extraordinary life, making Miriam Makeba a living legend.

Miriam’s powerful and distinctive voice retains the clarity and range that enable it to be both forceful as a protest march and as poignant as an African lullaby.



Genre: African Jazz, jazz, traditional / indigenous

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