Tuesday, November 11, 2008

In memory of Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa

Miriam Makeba, the South African singer whose voice stirred hopes of freedom among millions in her country with music that was banned by the apartheid authorities she struggled against, died overnight after performing at a concert in Italy on Sunday. She was 76.

Widely known as “Mama Africa,” Ms. Makeba was a prominent exiled opponent of apartheid after the South African authorities revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she traveled abroad. She was even prevented from attending her mother’s funeral after touring in the United States.

“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.

From abroad, Ms. Makeba acted as a constant reminder of the events in her homeland as the white power structure struggled to contain or pre-empt unrest among the black majority.

Ms. Makeba wrote in 1987: “I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots. Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa, and the people, without even realizing.”

Many of her most famous songs are on Youtube. In the following video, Ms Makeba leads a stadium in singing N'Kosi Sikeleli Africa, the the South African national anthem. It is a fitting memorial to her passing.

Ms Makeba's New York Times' obituary is linked.

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