Monday, November 17, 2008

ANC Statement in Tribute to Miriam Makeba (1932-2008); Classic 1950s Recordings to Be Re-issued

Tribute to Miriam Makeba

A great loss to South African music and cultural life!

Reprinted From ANC Today, November 14, 2008

Legendary musical icon, Miriam Makeba's name had become synonymous with the world wide struggle against apartheid and for freedom in South Africa. For more than three decades, her music projected the African people's aspirations and hopes for a better world as no other musician had done.

It is with deep sorrow and a sense of loss that we have learnt of the death of this internationally renowned singer at the age of 76, in Italy on the morning of 10th November 2008.

In the language of her forefathers there is an expression: "The graves of the really brave are by the roadside". Like the courageous soul she was, Miriam Zenzile Makeba ended her life on the road, performing in the south of Italy in support of an Italian journalist who has done a damning expose of the Mafia.

We wish to offer our heartfelt condolences to her grandchildren, the rest of her family, her friends and to her fans, throughout the world.

At the time of her death, Sis Zenzi was doing what she lived for. She was on a tour of Italy acting as a cultural ambassador by taking African music to all the quarters of the globe. Miriam Makeba did not allow the glitter and glamour of the limelight in which she spent great part of her time all over the world, to blind her to her past and the problems of her home continent. She kept her eyes on the prize: creating one human family under one heaven. Although she was forced to leave her country in 1960, this neither crushed her resilience nor her commitment to the liberation of her people.

Miriam Zenzile Makeba, known variously as "die Nutbrown baby" and other nicknames in her youth, was born in 1932 near Pretoria. From her mother, who was a traditional healer from Swaziland, she learnt many of her traditional African songs and chants. By the time she was a teenager, her talent had won her a place in the famous "Manhattan Brothers". She also was the key figure in the "Skylarks" a womens' quartet.

When the famous musical "King Kong" was staged, she won the role of the female lead, playing opposite Nathan Mdledle. At the age of 26, she appeared in an anti-apartheid film titled 'Come Back Africa', shot inside South Africa by American film maker Lionel Rogosin, highlighting the degrading conditions under which her people were forced to live.

Her appearance in that film earned her an invitation to the Venice Film Festival in 1960. Because the film so damaged the international reputation of the Apartheid government, they seized her passport, compelling her to remain an exile for the next thirty years.

The vicious reaction of the racists however threw the gates of the international community open to her. In London, she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her to move to the USA where he actively assisted in launching her international musical career.

The release of her first album, "Miriam Makeba" in 1961 was the commencement of a brilliant future as the musical ambassador of the African continent. Her second album, "The World of Miriam Makeba", where she employed the "wall of sound" techniques developed by rock musicians in the USA, saw her expanded her repertoire to include, Swahili, Indonesian, west Indian and Brazilian songs.

Collaborating with other South African musicians and students who began arriving in the USA after 1962, Miriam Makeba was instrumental in establishing scholarships for deserving Black South Africans and employed her music as much to entertain as to conscientise the US public to the plight of the oppressed in South Africa.

In 1965 she was invited to testify about the situation in South Africa before the United Nations. Her articulate presentation won the admiration of virtually every African ambassador and she was variously honoured with the citizenship of a number of newly independent countries.

A collaborative album with Belafonte, arranged by Jonas Gwangwa, titled "An Evening with Belafonte and Makeba", earned her a Grammy in 1966, the first African performer to win one.

Ever conscious of her African heritage, Miriam Makeba played a pivotal role in shaping the character of African-American identity through her hairstyles and the costumes she used on stage. This significant cultural contribution was heightened when she married the radical activist, Kwame Toure, formerly known as Stokely Carmichael.

As in her mother country, Makeba was subjected to political harassment and career threatening victimization for fusing her musical talent with political activism. Although she was not banned, she was evidently blacklisted by promoters in the USA and some of her concerts and recording contracts were cancelled.

In fact, she was embraced by the world for her unflinching stance. She moved back to the African continent, settling in Guinea which she used as her home base travelling to Europe, Latin America, other parts of the continent and the Carribean, espousing the African dream for a better world through her song.

In recognition of her efforts, she won the Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize and was awarded the Unesco Grand Prix du Conseil International de la Musique.

Perhaps more than any other African singer, Miriam Zenzile Makeba was able to use her art as a weapon of the struggle. Her international stature contributed immensely to the worldwide campaign for sanctions and the isolation of the apartheid regime.

On the African continent Miriam Makeba distinguished herself as a patriot, advocating the just cause of the peoples of Southern Africa in the fight against colonialism and apartheid.

Her songs, " A Lutta Continua" and "Gauteng" spoke of her commitment to the liberation struggle and the cause of the African workers exploited in the gold mines of South Africa. Miriam Makeba returned to South Africa in December 1990. Though she often said she would, she never left the stage and stayed on the road as a performer till the end. She published two biographies in 1988 and 2004.

She leaves behind a discography in excess of thirty albums that extends from her days with "The Skylarks" to her last album "Reflections", recorded in South Africa in 2000.

The passing of this outstanding African performer is a great loss to South African music and the cultural life of our country.

Miriam Makeba was, essentially, an African creative who won a place in the global cultural village thanks to her talent and magnificent voice.

Hamba Kahle Sis' Zenzi!

Early recordings get a facelift

LLOYD GEDYE - Nov 15 2008 06:00

Mama Africa had a successful and prolific career throughout her 76 years and Gallo Records has chosen to go right back to her musical roots for some great deluxe reissues.

The three compilations in question trace Miriam Makeba's rise to fame in the mid-to late-Fifties as a vocalist with the Manhattan Brothers and as the bandleader of the Skylarks.

The man behind these great new compilations is Gallo archivist Rob Allingham, who has spent many painstaking hours coordinating the remastering of old classics and compiling detailed liner notes for the albums. The results are three fantastic compilations that shine a new light on Makeba's early work.

The vocal groups of the time drew their influence more from American popular music than from any traditional styles. But the Manhattan Brothers fused the sounds of American bands such as the Mills Brothers and the Ink Spots with ragtime, jive, swing, doo-wop and African choral and Zulu harmonies. The Skylarks took their influence from New Orleans's Boswell sisters or the Andrews Sisters, but unlike local vocal groups like the Quad Sisters they too fused distinctly African vocal harmonies into the sound.

The Manhattan Brothers were around since the Forties and had a reputation for having the finest backing musicians and female vocalists. Makeba was invited to join them at the age of 21 as a replacement for Emily Kwenane and she remained a member for most of the Fifties. The Very Best of the Manhattan Brothers (Gallo) features 20 songs from the band's recordings and of those four feature Makeba's great voice.

The first, Tula Ndivile, is a great little blues number, while Baby Ntshoare is reminiscent of Twenties and Thirties jazz from New Orleans. But it is quite clear that the four Manhattan Brothers were equally vocally blessed and this album is a real treat.

While Makeba was still a member of the Manhattan Brothers she was approached in 1956 by Gallo talent scout Sam Alcock to form an all-female vocal group. Alcock wanted to compete with Troubadour, which had signed the Quad Sisters, and asked Makeba to form the Skylarks, whose early recordings were released under the name the Sunbeams, but Alcock soon changed it. The Skylarks were hugely popular and in a mere three years they recorded more than 100 songs.

Obviously Makeba was a well-known singer, but when the band was formed she was still in the shadow of Dolly Rathebe and Dorothy Masuka. By 1958 the Skylarks were South Africa's most popular vocal group and Makeba was the darling of the music scene. All too soon she was spreading her wings, heading overseas and eventually into exile.

This two-CD series contains some of her early musical footprints, great songs such as the gospel hits Make Us One, Live Humble and Do unto Others, as well as Makeba and Spokes's Patha Patha, which features the pennywhistle legend Spokes Mashiyane. Other highlights include the huge hits Miriam's Goodbye to Africa, Hush and Remember Sophiatown. Fans of ragtime and Thirties and Forties gospel and jazz vocal groups take note, The Very Best of Miriam Makeba and the Skylarks: 1956 to 1959 (Gallo), is a priceless collection. -- Lloyd Gedye

Source: Mail & Guardian Online
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