In a career spanning over 40 years, Miriam Makeba, still regal at 73, is marking the end of her performing years with a 14-month farewell tour she says to thank the people in the countries where she has performed. Miriam Makeba or Mama Africa as she is fondly known is visiting as many countries as she can and has recently vowed audiences in Cuba where one reviewer called her concert ’unforgettable and magisterial’.
I grew up listening and loving Miriam Makeba and her gorgeous voice; my favourite song as a child was ‘Pata Pata’, (pata means touch in Zulu). Only later did I realise her music had such a massive global impact. Her ‘Malaika’ (angel in Kiswahili) is well known throughout the African continent and her music has inspired many African artistes; the most famous perhaps being Angelique Kidjo. What has always amazed me is her ability to blend African and other musical forms to create her own unique style. She also sings in several African languages including Kiswahili, Shona, Bambara etc as well as in Arabic, French and Portuguese.
Although she will continue to make records, this is surely the end of an amazing era for an artiste whose performances are legendary. In the eighties, I attended a Miriam Makeba performance at London’s Royal Festival Hall; her energy and grace that night were breathtaking. She was beautiful and stylish and in a two hour performance, she changed her outfit four times, each outfit increasingly more stunning than the last.
Miriam Makeba, who was born in a township in Johannesburg where her mother was a servant for white families, was banned from South Africa for over 30 years for daring to talk and sing out against apartheid forcing her into exile. “I don't sing about politics. I sing the truth,” she said at that time.
As well as the prodigious production of numerous albums, Miriam Makeba is also involved in humanitarian work such as being an Ambassador for the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations). While in exile in Guinea, where she served as a Guinean delegate to the United Nations, she addressed the UN’s National Assembly about apartheid. She has also set up the Makeba Centre Rehabilitation Centre for Girls which works with street children where she will be focusing her strengths after the tour.
Miriam Makeba, an extraordinary artiste whose music lives on through the decades, is Africa’s greatest musical ambassador.