Friday, March 04, 2011
Today's crop of politically outspoken performers - especially those who feel persecuted for their convictions - would do well to consider the life and career of Miriam Makeba; for her stance against the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1963 she had her passport revoked, was stripped of her citizenship, and exiled. Since her records were also banned, they became powerful anthems of resistance in black communities both within South Africa and abroad during the 1970s and 80s*.
Born on this day in 1932 in Johannesburg's Prospect Township, the woman rightly known as Mama Afrika has even been dogged by controversy in her private life; her 1968 second marriage** to Stokely Carmichael, the leader of the Black Panthers, cost her lost record sales and canceled concerts in the United States as well. Already a seasoned world citizen, she and her husband simply moved to Guinea, in West Africa, as the guests of President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife. Makeba later served her adopted nation as a delegate to the United Nations.
By the mid-1980s the winds of history had begun to shift, for once in Makeba's favour; Paul Simon's embrace of world music at that time - as demonstrated in his stellar 1986 album Graceland, recorded in part in collaboration with Ladysmith Black Mambazo and featuring the distinctive sound of Township Jive - coincided with a growing chorus of opposition throughout the world to Pretoria's racist policies. By 1990 another well-known rebel by the name of Nelson Mandela was in the position to invite her to return, which she did. Only a couple of years later she expanded her range as an artist, appearing in the 1992 film Sarafina!, which chronicled the Soweto youth uprisings of 1976.
Makeba's farewell tour took her through all the countries where she'd performed during her career; after 14 months of bidding the world adieu she gave what was supposed to be her final bow in the UK in October 2007. Her actual final bow, though, came when Makeba died of a heart attack in November 2008 while performing her song Pata Pata*** during a concert at Castel Volturno in support of writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Mafia-like Camorra in Italy's Campania region.
*Not only did this achieve the opposite effect the South African government intended, it's pretty much the textbook example of why censorship doesn't ever work...
**Her first was to jazz musician Hugh Masekela.
***By no coincidence whatsoever, the song you can see her performing above!
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