Happy birthday, Miriam Makeba!
Miriam Zenzi 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. 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. When the Italian government invited her to the premier of the film at the Venice Film Festival, she decided not to return home. Her South African passport was revoked shortly afterwards.
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
What I personally remember of Miriam is the voice, and the way she was beloved. My folks listened to her at the same time as they listened to Jim Reeves (go figure), and the two form the basis of my pre-teen musical heritage, together with my mother singing around her chores, around her cooking, singing Sesotho traditional songs or Miriam’s Xhosa songs: The Click Song, or Khawuleza. Beautiful woman. Happy birthday to her.