Remembering Mam' Miriam Makeba on what would have been her 89th birthday

04 March 2021 - 12:49
By Masego Seemela
Legendary jazz singer Mam' Miriam Makeba would've turned 89 today.
Image: Frans Schellekens/Redferns via Getty Images Legendary jazz singer Mam' Miriam Makeba would've turned 89 today.

Today marks the day of birth of legendary jazz singer and civil right activist Mam' Miriam Makeba who would have turned 89. 

The legendary singer was born on March 4, 1932 and unfortunately passed away on on November 9, 2008.

Makeba used her voice and music to stir hope of freedom among millions during the apartheid era. She was a staunch advocate against black oppression in South Africa.

Her professional career began when she was featured in the South African jazz group the Manhattan Brothers in the 1950s and made her U.S debut on November 1, 1959 on The Steve Allen Show.

Here are three reasons the icon is still worth celebrating.

1. Pata Pata: One of the most infectious songs ever composed was first released in 1959

Makeba made her debut on prime-time US television where she performed Pata Pata live in 1967. Her song Pata Pata soon became an international smash hit.

In America, Makeba successfully collaborated with Jamaican-American singer Harry Belafonte with whom she sang together at JFK’s Madison Square Garden birthday party in 1962. 

The pair won a Grammy for their album, An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, in 1965.

“All of a sudden, people who never knew I have been in America since 1959 are asking me to be on their television shows and play at their concert halls in 1967. In the discotheques, they have invented a new dance called the Pata Pata. Couples dance apart, and they then reach out and touch each other. I go to Argentina for a concert, and everywhere I travel in South America, they are singing my song,” Makeba once told the BBC

2. Makeba's fight against apartheid in South Africa

The Grammy award-winning singer dedicated her life to fighting for equality in both South Africa and America through her music. Nicknamed "Mama Africa", Makeba’s activism started when she left South Africa as she managed to gain an outsider’s perspective about apartheid.

Makeba released albums in 1960 and 1963, both times making the billboard 200 in America. Mama Africa testified at the United Nations against apartheid.

In her United Nations speech, Makeba asked the UN to show compassion for the actions against black South Africans and also appealed to them to try and stop the tragedy and free South Africa’s unrightfully jailed leaders.

The album, An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, was a cry to the world to look at the immorality of apartheid. 

3. Makeba's legendary performances

The legendary singer shot to world-wide fame through this appearance in Lionel Rogosin's Come Back, Africa. Here, Makeba sings, Into Yam.