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Lyrics that will live on in our hearts

By unknown | Nov 20, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

Gugu Sibiya

Gugu Sibiya

As a die-hard Miriam Makeba fan I have always been struck by the depth of her lyrics, her precise diction and her discipline as an artist.

So it is not surprising that when she passed away I made time to revisit some of the lyrics that have touched me and left a lasting impression.

I wish I had enough space to present the feelings of a legend - but I also know the little I will be able to unpack will strike a chord with music lovers.

The moment news of her passing came through I found myself recalling the repetitive prophetic lyrics that go: "Who will weep and mourn when I have passed on".

These are words that were written at the height of her youth but here we are - they have come to pass. When her rendition of the song was played at her memorial service we were all moved to tears.

Everyone has spoken about her passion for Africa. If you still have doubts, you only have to listen to the beautiful, catchy tune titled Aluta Continua, which encouraged the people of Africa not to give up on the struggle.

When I listened to Mama Africa's version of Masakhane, written by a talented member of her band, Zamo Mbutho, I wept anew.

She sings: "Don't cry my child, these are trying times. Mama will be there for you. She will heal you."

She says it with the conviction of a mother comforting and persuading you to put your trust in her.

She says Aids is a big disease with a small name, so you have to be careful. It's a song that should be used as a signature tune because of its beauty - and grasp of the devastation the virus has caused in the country.

We need the kind of message people will be receptive to and the song provides just that.

I have never been in exile but I have listened with fascination as some of those who faced the wrath of the Boers dismiss the pain of exiles.

I listened to Makeba's lamentation Alone. It speaks of her being with people, but not of them. It is not surprising that she was always talking about coming home.

Africa was home but South Africa was the home of her youth, the home in her heart, her creative reservoir.

She talks about how much she has travelled around the world, telling everybody about our sorrow. Rejoicing at her return home, she thanks everyone for their contribution.

I love the part that says: "Mina kumele ngakhiwe uwe, wakhiwe yimi, thina sonke masakhane." Translated it means: Let us develop and build each other.

She then walks the talk when she mentions the role political players of the time, even the discredited ones, took on themselves. She was a true nation builder.

Such love for one's country is something that evokes involuntary patriotism. Africa Is Where My Heart Lies is self-explanatory. Check the umbilical chord binding her to South Africa: "Home is where my heart lies across the ocean into the African sky".

"I remember those days I prayed to come home, I knew someday I would be here," she adds in Homeland.

If other artists were to infuse so much patriotism into their music, we would have hard-working South Africans ready not only to build their country but to change their lifestyle.

Be enthralled by the romance in Cause We Live For Love, Listen To Your Heart and You Are In Love. I can guarantee that, as she says, "Love can make your heart sing like a choir".

The percussion-driven Liwawechi explains how she must have passed the love for drums onto her great-grandson Lindelani.

Makeba's mother was a sangoma and she always respected that traditional aspect of healing. Drums form an integral part of healing and the idiom that flows from her lips, as she delivers with love and passion, is captivating.

Pata Pata and the Click Song are typical examples of creativity that leads not only to standards but to catalogue material that lives on even after the composer is gone.

She once noted that her music might not sell like hot cakes but it will always be around.

While the youth get goose bumps at the house version of Maskinada, Makeba has always sung that and the hauntingly beautiful Malaika. Of all the interpretations I have ever heard, hers stands out.

You want to weep for the love she had for the grandchildren she lived for - Lumumba and Zenzi. She talks about how "in time you get older, in time you get mellow" and how time heals and "broken times mend again".

She knew because she lost a child she loved very much.

"I love my children more than anything in life," she said and then with the conviction of a mother: "Wandipha abanye abantwana. ndiyavuya ukuba ndiphile ndaze ndabona isizukulwane sesibili. Ewe ndiyabathanda abantwana bami!" (I thank the Lord for giving me long life so that I was able to see my great-grandchildren.)

Makeba's songs have captured the essence of her life. They reflect her loving, generous heart and the love for Africa, which tells you it was not by a fluke they called her Mama Africa.

She lived for her people, showing that the communion of spirits in this beautiful continent is a tangible reality. Her pearls of wisdom, buried in beautiful melodies, will see her contributing from the other side of the divide.

We love you, Makeba, you have been a thousand libraries and if we don't take a leaf from the many chapters of wisdom you have left us, we will be as foolish as the Biblical maidens who did not provide for their future.

Rest in peace, you have earned the right!


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