Saturday, November 15, 2008

RIP Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 - 10 November 2008) was a South African singer and civil rights activist. The Grammy Award winning afrobeat artist is often referred to as Mama Afrika.
Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma and her father, who died when she was six, was a Xhosa. As a child, she sang at the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, which she attended for eight years.
Makeba first toured with an amateur group. Her professional career began in the 1950s with the Manhattan Brothers, before she formed her own group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa.
In 1959, she performed in the musical King Kong alongside Hugh Masekela, her future husband. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to go to the US. Her break came when she starred in the anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa in 1959 by independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. She attended the premiere of the film at the Venice Film Festival.
Makeba then travelled to London where she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her in gaining entry to and fame in the United States. She released many of her most famous hits there including "Pata Pata", "The Click Song" ("Qongqothwane" in Xhosa), and "Malaika". In 1966, Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid.
She discovered that her South African passport was revoked when she tried to return there in 1960 for her mother's funeral. In 1963, after testifying against apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked. She has had nine passports, and was granted honorary citizenship of ten countries.
Her marriage to Trinidadian civil rights activist and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States, and her record deals and tours were cancelled. As a result of this, the couple moved to Guinea, where they became close with President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife. Makeba separated from Carmichael in 1973, and continued to perform primarily in Africa, South America and Europe. She was one of the African and Afro-American entertainers at the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaïre. Makeba also served as a Guinean delegate to the United Nations, for which she won the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986.
After the death of her only daughter Bongi Makeba in 1985, she moved to Brussels. In 1987, she appeared in Paul Simon's Graceland tour. Shortly thereafter she published her autobiography Makeba.
Nelson Mandela persuaded her to return to South Africa in 1990. In November 1991, she made a guest appearance in an episode of The Cosby Show, in the episode "Olivia Comes Out Of The Closet". In 1992 she starred in the film Sarafina!, about the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings, as the title character's mother, "Angelina." She also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony where she and others recalled the days of apartheid.
In January 2000, her album, Homeland, produced by Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn was nominated for a Grammy Award in the "Best World Music" category.
In 2001 she was awarded the Gold Otto Hahn Peace Medal by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin, "for outstanding services to peace and international understanding". In 2002, she shared the Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina. In 2004, Makeba was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Makeba started a worldwide farewell tour in 2005, holding concerts in all of those countries that she had visited during her working life.
Her publicist notes that Makeba had suffered "severe arthritis" for some time.
On 9 November 2008, she became ill while taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra a mafia-like organisation local to the Region of Campania. The concert was being held in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy.
A few days before 9 November 2008, an Italian journalist called Miriam Makeba in Amsterdam for an interview, however, Makeba replied that she was sorry because she was too exhausted and didn't have the strength to grant the interview. Days later she found the energy to talk about Roberto Saviano, her tremendous love for Nelson Mandela, and the new hope of Barack Obama.
The morning of 9 November 2008, Makeba agreed to sing for the sons and daughters of immigrants staying at a local charitable organization and shelter in Castelvolturno, Centro Fernandes, where she also posed for pictures and exchanged hugs with the crowds. She stayed at Centro Fernandes until 1pm. She retired to her hotel room until 9:30pm when she arrived backstage at the concert held to remember the Camorra's victims like Domenico Noviello killed on 16 May 2008 and six immigrants of African descent killed on 19 September 2008.
Perhaps angry about immigrant drug dealers cutting in on their turf in general, on September 18, 2008 members of the local Camorra shot and killed six immigrants of African descent who were working in a store selling ethnic products in Castelvolturno.
Violent riots erupted among immigrants and locals prompting Italy's Minister of the Interior to dispatch 400 law enforcement agents to help keep the peace in Castelvolturno as well as other affected areas in the province of Caserta.
Organizers and the construction crew working on Miriam Makeba's last concert in Castelvolturno were threatened by members of the Camorra to pay 2000 euros for the anti-Camorra concert to go on without incident;shaken organizers bravely refused to pay the Camorra and contacted Carabinieri police officers to ensure safety during the concert.
Makeba performed for around an hour and suffered a heart attack after singing her hit "Pata Pata", and was taken to the "Pineta Grande" hospital. Doctors were unable to revive her.
Makeba had requested an English version of Saviano's book, "Gomorra" from one of the concert's organizers, Corrado Gabriele. As the last notes of the grand finale, "Pata Pata," played, Gabriele and another organizer, Maria Nazionale, began climbing on the stage to present Miriam Makeba the requested book with an inscription of hope that all Africans would be able to feel happy and free in Italy. Makeba fell on the stage to the horror of the terrified and worried audience. Someone shouted words of encouragement like, "Come on, you can make it!"
When Miriam Makeba arrived at Pineta Grande Clinic she was surrounded by her entourage. She seemed to be feeling better as for the most part she regained her pulse, however, after drinking some cognac she suffered a second heart attack, that one being fatal. In his condolence message, former South African president Nelson Mandela said it was “fitting that her last moments were spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause.”
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