Miriam Makeba: 1932-2008
The great South African vocalist Miriam Makeba, a regal musician and renowned civil rights activist, has reportedly died of a heart attack at the age of 76.
Makeba was Africa’s answer to Ella Fitzgerald, an agile
singer whose soaring voice was characterized by a cheerful brightness. And though she had crossover pop success with “Pata Pata” and “The Click Song,” she was anything but a lightweight.
Beautiful as a young woman and queenly as an older lady, Makeba was—along with Ladysmith Black Mambazo founder Joseph Shabalala and her ex-husband Hugh Masekela and—one of the three most important living South African musicians.
Born in 1932, Makeba lived through the entire history of state-sponsored South African apartheid, which ran from 1948 through the election of Nelson Mandela in 1994. In 1963, she addressed the United Nations about what she called “the coming tragedy”:
“I ask you and all the leaders of the world: Would you act differently, would you keep silent and do nothing if you were in our place? Would you not resist if you were allowed no rights in your own country because the color of your skin is different to that of the rulers, and if you were punished for even asking for equality? I appeal to you, and through you to all the countries of the world, to do everything you can to stop the coming tragedy. I appeal to you to save the lives of our leaders, to empty the prisons of all those who should never have been there.”
For her resistance to apartheid, Makeba was exiled from South Africa. In a statement widely quoted in media reports of Makeba’s death, Mandela said, “Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us.”
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