Miriam Makeba

10 11 2008

It was sad to learn today that Miraim Makeba died.  ARC keeps running bios on many artists, so here is our last entry we did on Ms. Makbe, from 1999.  We’ll update again soon and send along.

Miriam Makeba    South Africa
nee : Zenzile. Zenzi, Mazi, Mama Africa, Empress of African Music, Empress of African Song,
b : Johannesburg, March 4, 1932

If ever there was a Grande Dame of World music, it would have to be Miriam Makeba.  Beyond the long career, crossover success, and international appeal is the dignified image, a symbol and a person fighting for women’s rights, human rights, and racial equality.  Having fled South Africa for freedom in America, she was soon forced to leave America as that same freedom was denied her.  Makeba never claimed to be anything other than a musician, and she never shied away from opportunities to speak out.  A normal amount of mistakes and too many hardships chipped away at the icon, while the strength and dignity and the music remained.

Like so many artists Makeba first sang on stage with her church choir and at school, Kilmerton Training Institute sponsored by the Methodists in Pretoria.  Late in her career Makeba revealed that her love of singing began with the great many spirit songs she learned from her mother, an isangoma or traditional healer.  Bouncing between her mother’s and grandmother’s household, the teenager found work as a nanny and maid. It was not much of a decision to become a musician.  Makeba was cleaning taxis for her nephew who also performed in an amateur group, the Cuban Brothers.  He asked her to sing and she accepted.

The Cuban Brothers were neither Cuban nor brothers, but a small combo with Makeba fronting a male vocal quartet.  One evening Nathan Mdlhedlhe (Mdledle) of the Manhattan Brothers caught the act and asked Makeba to audition.  The Manhattan Brothers (Black Manhattan Brothers: Nathan, Joe Mogotsi, Rufus Khoza, Ronnie Majola) were South Africa’s number one close harmony group who utilized a variety of top musicians in their stage shows.  Makeba was hired and, for stage purposes, uses the name; “Miriam,” for the first time.  For Makeba this was a tremendous opportunity – a much needed good turn for a 20 year old with a lifetime of experiences, including the death of her father, breast cancer, the birth of her first child and abandonment by her husband.

The Manhattan Brothers, who began as a mbube acappela group, rose to fame in the tradition of the quartets that developed out of American jazz and swing orchestras, mimicking the style of the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots.  For the most part Makeba covered jazz and pop standards, listing Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn as her favorite performers.  But the Manhattans retained an interest in the music performed in the sheebens and by mine workers drawn from many ethnic groups throughout Southern Africa.   When Makeba came aboard they were once again performing local music in local languages, as well as Western standards in the Xhosa and Zulu languages.  Touring widely with the Manhattans Miriam encountered other African musical styles from Rhodesia (later Zimbabwe) and the Congo region.  One story relates that the Manhattans encouraged Makeba to perform the traditional gumboot dance, possibly the first woman to do so onstage.  When she began Miriam was billed as, “our own nut brown baby”  Soon she was known as, “the Nightingale.”  When Miriam’s picture graced Coca-Cola billboards and magazine ads, everyone in South Africa knew Miriam Makeba name.

Makeba recorded many 78s with the Manhattan Brothers for Gallotone. along with her first headlining effort, “Lakutshona Ilanga.”  This Xhosa song of lost-love became a hit, and to reach an American audience an English language version, “You Tell Such Lovely Lies,” with lesser lyrics was penned.  Even though it was illegal for a Black to sing in English, Makeba recorded this version at the insistence of her record company.  Gaining experience and skills, and a new found interest in local music, in 1956 Makeba released her first composition, “Pata, Pata” (Touch-Touch).  The song was also a hit and part of a major dance craze in South Africa.

While loosely still with the Manhattans, around 1956 Makeba sang with a similar style all-female ensemble put together by Gallotone called the Skylarks.  The group featured three other remarkable voices, Abigail Kubheka (Kebeka) and the sisters, Mary and Mamie Rabotapa.  She also began extensive touring with promoter Alf Herberts’, ‘African Jazz and Variety’.  This was a very popular review, with Makeba, her idol and chief singing rival in the day, Dorothy Masuka, and two future husbands, Sonny Pillay and Hugh Masekela.  In general the female singers still mimicked American pop-jazz vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald.  This was the sophisticated direction Makeba was taking.  Later she would offer a prime example when she scat sang Ellington’s, “Rockin’ in Rhythm.” (on the collection, Something New From Africa , 1959).

Makeba was chosen to play Joyce, the female lead in the musical, “King Kong.”  This 1959 play drew from the cream of Jo’berg’s musical talent, including Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa, Dollar Brand, and Hugh Masekela.  Playing the lead of heavyweight boxer Ezekeil “King Kong” Dhlamini, was the man who gave Miriam her first big break, the Manhattan Brothers’ Nathan Mdlhedlhe.  Billed as a ‘Jazz Opera’, the play was an American style musical with bits of kwela pennywhistle street music.  Staged in a university auditorium to allow for a mixed race audience, this rise and fall saga was hugely successful, adding luster to Makeba’s star.

The series of events that led to Makeba’s exile started with her cameo in Lionel Rogosin’s documentary film, “Come Back Africa.”   Taking it’s title from the ANC anthem, the story line follows migrant worker’s life in Sophiatown under minority rule.  Here Miriam’s role was essentially playing herself, offering two numbers in a nightclub scene.  Rogosin worked tirelessly to promote Makeba’s talent and showed the clip of her singing to any and all.  He arranged to bring Makeba to the film’s premier at the Venice Film Festival in 1959, where it won the Critic’s Prize.  He also arranged an appearance on American TV and at a nightclub in New York City.  After the festival Makeba went to London where her newest fan, American singer Harry Belafonte, helped her secure an elusive US visa.  The White South African government saw Makeba’s success and growing international soapbox as a serious threat.  Her passport was revoked, essentially preventing her from returning home to her family.  At the end of 1959 Miriam Makeba went to America.
Both her cause and her music gained Makeba powerful allies in the US entertainment industry, primarily Belafonte and TV host Steve Allen.  Her performance on Allen’s prime time Sunday evening show drew an audience in the millions.  It was television that made Makeba a star in America.  In the golden age of the variety show, the unusual “Click Song” (“Qogothwane”) found a ready TV audience.  The clicking sound, Ngongongtwang, is basic to the Xhosa (Xosa, Zhosa) language, made with a percussive flick of the tongue off the roof of mouth.  Seeking to make it understandable to the average American, Time Magazine likened it to, “the popping of champagne corks.”  Makeba became so identified with the sound that reviews now called her, “The click-click girl.”

It didn’t hurt that Makeba was photogenic, ‘exotic’ and elegant.  So were her fans.  Sitting in the first row, at her first live show at the Village Vanguard were Sidney Poitier, Duke Ellington, Nina Simone and Miles Davis.  Belefonte, who was pretty much managing her career, even commissioned her gowns – Kennedy era silk sheaths, with a shawl covering one shoulder – only hinting at something, somewhat, African.  The repertoire underwent a similar change.  Gone were the jazz numbers, R&B leanings and the wider range of African song.  Makeba’s snappy material, now concentrated on updated Zulu and Xhosa traditional music as well as her own composed songs.  It was a sound that fit right in with the folk revival movement that American music was enjoying. From the very first LP Makeba was clearly being up-marketed as a folksinger for a mixed-drink crowd.

Albums were developed with trademark consistency; many South African traditional numbers, a song from another African country, a calypso or two, a blues, a romantic European number, something from Brazil and almost always a lullaby.  She also attracted a loyal cast of savvy sidemen and producers/orchestrators.  Sivuca, the Brazilian guitarist and accordionist, played regularly with Makeba.  Masekela was another frequent collaborator.  Later they would marry for a while, but they never stopped working together.  Belafonte, who seemed to find his soul mate in Makeba, performed live and recorded with her, as well as orchestrating and producing her early albums.  For nearly ten years every summer they went out on tour together.    A press agent’s dream came true when Makeba was asked to perform at President Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden in 1962.  Unfortunately all the talent in the world couldn’t compete with that other MM, sewn into her dress and oozing, “Happy Birthday Mr. President.”

Despite her shyness offstage, Makeba’s high profile made her an ideal spokesperson for the situation in South Africa.  In 1963 she testified at the United Nations Committee Against Apartheid.  She described spectacular and ordinary indignities, including the Sharpsville Massacre (1960), police brutality, mass arrests and the limiting and humiliating pass laws.  The government of South Africa responded by banning her records from the radio and in the shops.   But in the States Makeba went from success to success.  In 1963 she gave a solo concert at New York’s Carnegie Hall amid a hectic performing schedule.  Even more widespread success came with the 1967 release of a rehashed, “Pata Pata.”   With RCA behind the single the song made the American charts and became a hit worldwide.

As meteoric as her rise was her fall in the American entertainment industry.  In 1968, Miriam divorced Masekela to marry radical black activist Kwame Toure (Stokely Carmichael).  All of a sudden a person applauded for fighting against apartheid in South Africa was considered a radical for associating with those suggesting a similar struggle needed to be waged in America.  Recording opportunities vanished and concerts were cancelled.  Reprise illegally cancelled her recording contract.  The FBI followed her everywhere.  While not officially censored by the government, America treated her exactly like South Africa and essentially took away her right to work.  At the invitation of Guinean president Sekou Toure, in 1968 Miriam and her husband moved to Africa, remaining in Guinea for nine years.  Based in Conakry she began touring again, mostly Europe, South America and Africa.  She also became a Guinean delegate to the United Nations where she twice addressed the General Assembly, speaking out against the evils of apartheid.

Makeba continued to tour widely, lecture and record in Europe as her American albums slowly went out of print.  About her only US concert was in 1975 at Lincoln Center.  At Nigeria’s FESTAC festival in 1977 she triumphed as South Africa’s unofficial representative.  Closer to home in 1982 she joined up with Hugh Masekela for a huge concert in Botswana , with thousand of South Africans crossing the border to attend.  In 1986 her continued push for racial equality earned her the Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize.  The following year Makeba was profiled in the Faith Isikapere documentary film, Exiles.

In 1987 Makeba made the controversial decision to join Paul Simon’s “Graceland” tour.  The African National Congress had spent years trying to enforce a boycott of South Africa, endorsed by the UN, until apartheid came to an end.  A cultural boycott was an important element, as entertainers garnered inordinate press.  The Graceland album was partially recorded in South Africa and therefore denounced by the ANC.  Makeba had often spoken in support of the boycott.  When Aretha Franklin was considering performing in South Africa in 1971, Miriam was outspoken; “No artist can go to South Africa without getting dirty herself.  …you can’t roll around with pigs and not end up covered with mud.”

Yet she joined the Graceland team stating that the success of the live shows would accelerate change.  The results were that many regarded her participation as traitorous and for the first time in years she was being offered work in America.  Sangoma, became Makeba’s first album released in the US since 1967, and her first album ever to feature only South African material.  For those who thought the fire had died, while promoting the album there was an offhand, ever-present condemnation; “You shoot a bird in South Africa, you go to jail.  You shoot a Nigger, it’s all-right!”

In 1988 her autobiography, Makeba, My Story, was published in six languages, and Miriam performed at a massive Free Nelson Mandella concert before 40,000 in Bologna, Italy.  In a bit of genius Diva programming in 1990 Makeba toured with Nina Simone and Odetta.  At the end of the year Makeba returned home, the following April performing her first concert in South Africa in 30 years.  Also in 1991 Makeba joined Dizzy Gillespie’s “Live The Future!” world tour.  Acting again after so many years, in 1992 Miriam appeared as the title characters’ mother in the film of the musical, Sarafina.

1995 one of her busiest years ever as she toured the world to sold out concerts.  Highlights included the filming of the TV special, “Christmas In The Vatican,” a concert in Beijing with Dee Dee Bridgewater and Marianne Faithful, the filming of a biographic documentary for London’s The South Bank Show directed by Melissa Raimes, becoming a Great Grand-mother, and at the end of the year a return to South Africa to perform for now President Mandella.

Makeba has received a staggering amount of awards, prizes, testimonials and honorary degrees to recognize her long commitment to women’s rights, political freedom and ending Apartheid.  If your in Berkeley June 16 is Miriam Makeba Day, while the date is March 22 in Tusagee, Alabama.  There’s even a street named after her in Guadeloupe. She’s also been sued over the authorship of her hit, ‘Malaika,’ in East Africa, and survived one plane and eleven car crashes.  Add to this her bouts with cancer, five marriages and the death of her beloved and troubled only daughter.  At times she wrote that she was close to madness, and was convinced that mischievous amadlozi spirits had taken hold of her.  After 50 years the spirits, apartheid and all the controversy have now receded.  The music is once again stage front, Makeba still a striking performer in a role that has run from gamine to grandmother of African song.

• A Promise  (Sonodisc, CD 5506, CD, 1986).  Featuring Joe Sample, Stix Hooper, Arthur Adams, and David T. Walker From The Crusaders.
• Africa  (Novus / BMG, 3155-2-N, CD,1991).
• African Convention  (Esperance/Sono, Espcd1907, ).
• All About Miriam  (Mercury, MG 21095, LP, no year listed [1967]).
• Appel à l’Afrique  (Syliphone, Guinea, LP ).
• The Best Of Miriam Makeba  (RCA, LSP-3982, LP, 1968).
• The Click Song   (Sonodisc, Cd 5564, CD) Comme
• Une Symphonie D’amour  (Sonodisc, France, Cd7501, CD ).
• Country Girl  (Sonodisc, France, Cd6518, CD
• Eyes on Tomorrow  (Polydor, 849 313-2, CD, 1991) Featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Hugh Masekela And Nelson Lee
• Forbidden Games  (RCA, LP, 1962).
• Greatest Hits  (WEA, LP, 1979).
• I Shall Sing  (Esperance / Sonodisc, Sncd1901, ).
• In Concert  (Reprise, 6253, n.d. [60s]).  Her first LP for Reprise recorded at New York’s Philharmonic Hall, Lincoln Center, with a small combo including Sivuca.
• In Concert  (Peters International, PLD 2082, LP, 1977).  Recorded at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees, Paris.
• Keep Me In Mind  (Reprise, LP, 1967).
• Le Monde De Myriam Makeba  (Sonodisc, France, Cd5563, CD).
• Live At The Champs Elysee  (Sonodisc, France, LP, 1975).
• Live Au Palais Du Peuple De Conakry  (Sonodisc, France, Cd8470, CD).
• Live From Paris and Conakry  (Drg, 5234, May, 1996).
• Live In Conakry  (Sonodlsc, France, LP, 1975).
• Makeba!  (WEA/Reprise, RRC 2213, 1968).
• Makeba Sings!  (RCA, LSP-3321, 1965).  Orchestra here led by Hugh Masekela, who did most of the arranging.  Quite a band here, including Jonas Gwangwa, Kenny Burrel, and Milford Graves
• The Magic Of Makeba  (RCA, LSP-3512, 1966).
• The Magnificent  (Mercury, SR 61082, no year listed).
• The Many Voices Of Miriam Makeba  (Kapp, KS-1274, 1962).
• Miriam Makeba  (RCA, LPM-2267, LP, 1960).  Her first solo US LP, featuring “The Click Song” and “Mbube.”  All the monies earned here went directly to Gallotone to buy out her South African contract!
• Miriam Makeba Goes International   (WEA, LP, 1977).  With Perry Lopez & The Belafonte Singers
• Miriam Makeba Live From My Brothers And Sisters (CCP, LP, 1978).
• Miriam Makeba Live In Africa  (Philips, , 1967).
• Music Volume 6: Miriam Makeba  (RCA, France, NL 42421 A, LP, n.d. [1980s]).
• Pata Pata   (Reprise, R 6274, LP, n.d., [1967] / Sonodisc, France, Cd6508, CD).
• Pata Pata (Esregistrement Public Au Théâtre des Champs-Elysées 30 Septembre 1977)  (Sonodisc, C1005, LP, 1977).
• Rhythm & Song  (Peters International, PLD 2073, 1980
• Sabelani  (CCP, LP, 1979)
• Sangoma  (Warner Bros., 9 25673-1, LP, 1988).  Also avail on CD from Wea / Warner Bros. Hugh Masekela plays trumpet.
• Sing Me A Song  (DRG, 5233, CD, 1993 / Sonodisc, France, Cd12702, CD, 1994).
• Symphony De Mour (Symphony Of Love)  (Sonodisc, France, LP, 1975).
• The Voice of Africa  (RCA Victor, LSP-2845, LP, 1964).  Arranged and conducted by Hugh Masekela.
• The World of Miriam Makeba  (RCA Victor, LPM-2750, LP, 1963).
• Welela  (Mercury, 838 208-2, LP, 1989).
• World Of African Song  (Burns and MacEachern Ltd , 8129-0138-x, LP, 1971).  African Folk Songs

Miriam and Bongi Makeba
• Miriam and Bongi Makeba  (Sonodisc, France, LP, 1975)
• Together  (Syliphone / Sonodisc, France, SYL C 007, n.d.).

Miriam Makeba & the Skylarks.
• Volume 1   (Gallo, TELCD 2303, ).    cuts from the 50s and great.
• Volume 2   (Gallo, TELCD 2315, ).
• The Best Of The Skylarks  (Kaz, UK, Kazcd26, CD).
• Skylarks  (Gallo, South Africa, [LP],1953).    Makeba site
• Skylarks (Re-Issue)  (, , 1992).    Makeba site

Miriam Makeba & Harry Belafonte.
• Belafonte Live At Carnegie Hall (2 Songs)  ((RCA, LP, 1960).
• Songs for Africa  (RCA, RCAL 6015, LP, 1985).  Hugh Masekela plays trumpet
• Together  (Ariola Express (GER), 495 592, 1989).  Notes says an anthology.  Some titles Orch conducted by Hugh Masekela
• Miriam Makeba & Harry Belafonte  (BMG, LP, 1972).

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One response

10 11 2008
Nossie

interresting blog u got here m8 🙂

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