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Miriam Makeba

( b. Mar 04, 1932 Johannesburg, SOUTH AFRICA - d. Nov 09, 2008 ITALY ) Female
Widely known as "Mama Africa," Ms. Makeba was a prominent exiled opponent of apartheid since the South African authorities revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she traveled abroad. She was prevented from attending her mother's funeral after touring in the United States.

As a singer, Ms. Makeba merged the ancient and the modern, tradition and individualism. Her 1960s hits "Qongqothwane," known in English as "The Click Song," and the dance song "Pata Pata," which would be remade by many other performers in the next decades, used the tongue-clicking sound that is part of the Xhosa language her family spoke. Traditional African ululation was also one of her many vocal techniques.

But Ms. Makeba was also familiar with jazz and international pop and folk songs, and while South African songs would always be the core of her repertory, she built an ever-expanding repertory in many languages. Her voice was supremely flexible, and she could sound like a young girl or a craggy grandmother within the same song.

Ms. Makeba's musical career spanned five decades, from 1950s recordings with South African vocal groups -- the Manhattan Brothers and then her own female group, the Skylarks -- through her last studio recording, "Reflections" (2004), and her continuing concert performances.

With tenderness, righteousness and playfulness, Ms. Makeba sang love songs, advice songs, spiritual songs, anti-apartheid songs and calls for unity. In bringing African music to other continents, she was a pioneer of what would be called world music, reworking her own heritage for listeners who might never hear it otherwise while creating fusions of her own. Yet for all her internationalist hybrids, and through three decades as an exile, her music always made it clear that South Africa was her home.

As an exile Ms. Makeba lived variously in the United States, France, Guinea and Belgium. South Africa's state broadcasters banned her music after she spoke out against apartheid at the United Nations.
"I never understood why I couldn't come home," Ms. Makeba said, as quoted by The Associated Press, during an emotional homecoming in Johannesburg in 1990 as the apartheid system began to crumble. "I never committed any crime."

Music was a central part of the struggle against apartheid. The South African government censored many forms of expression, while many foreign entertainers refused to perform in South Africa and discouraged others from doing so in an attempt to isolate the white authorities and show their opposition to the regime.

In the United States she became a star, touring with Harry Belafonte in the 1960s and winning a Grammy award with him in 1965 for "An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba." Such was her following and fame that she sang in 1962 at the birthday party of President John F. Kennedy. She also performed with Paul Simon in his "Graceland" concert in Zimbabwe in 1987.

In 1992, Ms. Makeba starred in "Sarafina!," a film with Whoopi Goldberg about the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings; Ms. Makeba played the title character's mother. She also took part in the acclaimed 2002 documentary "Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony," in which she and others recalled apartheid.

Source: NY Times obit. 

ProductionsDate of Productions
[Play, Original]
  • Produced in association with Miriam Makeba
Apr 23, 1987 - May 17, 1987
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