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Mama Africa's tribute concert is on at last

By Nthabiseng Moreosele and Gugu Sibiya | Oct 14, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

EVERYTHING happens for a reason and everything happens in God's time, wise people say.

EVERYTHING happens for a reason and everything happens in God's time, wise people say.

It's taken three attempts, but finally Miriam Makeba's Tribute Concert is taking place next month.

The three-day affair starts with a concert at the Union Buildings on November 7, a workshop at the Dr Miriam Makeba Concert Hall at Unisa and a memorial lecture in the form of a gala dinner and a musical at the State Theatre.

Every Sunday morning the streets of our townships would resonate to the voice of Makeba, waking up her brothers and sisters.

She was the beloved songstress who had made it overseas and proved that black people were capable of great things if given the chance.

Born in Johannesburg in 1932 to a Swazi mother and Xhosa father, her father died when she was six. She grew up with the sound of drums, with which her mother used to greet the ancestral spirits every morning. Music and the graceful idiom of prayer was imbued in her in those morning sessions. They also taught her phrasing and cadence.

She was discovered by the Manhattan Brothers in the 1950s where she backed vocalists and sang the occasional song, but her breakthrough into the big time happened when she was cast in the play King Kong in 1959. The musical was wildly popular in South Africa and plans were made for an overseas tour.

In the same year she starred in Come Back Africa , a documentary about the oppressive discrimination of blacks that was produced by Lionel Rogosin. Makeba attended the premiere in Venice and went on to London. Her mentor, Harry Belafonte, used her as a filler in his concerts and thereby introduced her unique sound to Americans. She wowed them with her click songs and Pata Pata .

She angered the apartheid regime by testifying against them at the United Nations. The government revoked her passport and she was barred from attending her mother's funeral. After that, she became a symbol of the suffering of black people who went to great lengths to acquire her albums, which were banned in the country.

Her love affair with the American public soured when she married Stokely Carmichael. The civil rights leader was viewed as a dangerous dissident in America. Concerts where she was the main draw were hastily rearranged and her many recording contracts were cancelled.

President Sekou Toure of Guinea, who was a staunch fan, invited her to live in his country. The government paid the couple a small stipend as venues had dried up and the couple was almost penniless. Makeba and Carmichael were divorced in 1973. After that her work picked up.

She was dealt a devastating blow when her only daughter Bongi died in 1985. She left Guinea to live in Belgium with her grandchildren.

Her career started anew when people forgave her for being loyal to Carmichael.

She returned home after the collapse of apartheid. She died last year on November 8 after singing Pata Pata at a concert in Italy.

This landmark commemorative service is in partnership with the Department of Arts and Culture, Miriam Makeba Foundation, Heritage Council and Morris Roda Productions.


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