Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Miriam Makeba

The Awesome Woman of the Day for Wednesday, February 15, 2012 is Zenzile Miriam Makeba (also known as Mama Africa) March 4, 1932 – November 10, 2008, South African civil rights activist and grammy award winning singer.

Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932 to a Swazi healer/herbalist who was arrested for selling home-brewed beer 18 days after Miriam's birth, which meant that Miriam spent her first six months in jail with her mother. Her father was a Xhosa (Bantu-speaking South African) and died when Miriam was six.

She began singing in her primary school choir and joined a jazz group in the 1950s. She recorded Pata Pata, perhaps her best-known song, as early as 1956 and became fairly well-known in South Africa, but her international career began in 1959, thanks to a brief appearance in a documentary about South African Apartheid (Come Back, Africa). Id.

The filmmaker, Lionel Rogosin got Makeba a visa for Makeba to attend the première of the film at the Venice Film Festival in Italy where the film won the Critics' Award. That same year, Makeba met her future third husband, South African-born trumpeter Hugh Masekela, when both appeared in the South African musical King Kong, She appeared on the Steve Allen show in 1960 and began recording and performing with Harry Belafonte. Id.

South Africa apparently canceled her passport sometime in 1960 and refused to allow her to return for her mother's funeral. In 1963, after she testified before the United Nations about apartheid, her citizenship was revoked. Id.
I always wanted to leave home. I never knew they were going to stop me from coming back. Maybe, if I knew, I never would have left. It is kind of painful to be away from everything that you've ever known. Nobody will know the pain of exile until you are in exile. No matter where you go, there are times when people show you kindness and love, and there are times when they make you know that you are with them but not of them. That's when it hurts. —Miriam Makeba
From wikipedia:
She was a woman without a country, but the world came to her aid, and Guinea, Belgium and Ghana issued her international passports, and she became, in effect, a citizen of the world. In her life, she had nine passports, and was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries. Id.
An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba won a grammy in 1966 for best folk recording. The record addressed the plight of South Africans under apartheid and featured traditional South African songs that became huge hits in the United States. When peforming, she wore no makeup and refused to curl her hair. Id.

In 1968, she married her fourth husband, U.S. civil rights activist (Black Panther) Stokely Carmichael, resulting in the cancellation of her record deals and touring contracts. Id. Carmichael's place of exile was Guinea, and Makeba returned there with him for several years. (When she divorced Carmichael, the President of Guinea proposed to her, but she turned him down.)

Makeba's associations with black consciousness-raising and efforts to support the cultural boycott of South Africa led to various controversies, not all of which involved offended white people. For example, ANC supporters boycotted her show at the Royal Albert Hall because of her collaboration with Paul Simon on the Graceland project. Makeba welcomed the controversy, however, because it brought attention to the issues. Id.

After Nelson Mandela was released from prison she was allowed to return (and welcomed back) to South Africa. She performed every so often and embarked on a farewell tour after announcing her intent to retire in 2005. She collapsed on stage at a benefit concert in November 2008 and died the next day. Id.

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