Ask a South African Child to tell you the names of two famous people in South Africa and the answer goes like this: “Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba.” A victim of apartheid and living legend for the younger generation, Miriam Makeba has proved that in the political history of South Africa, “If surely you are the big tree, she is the small axe to cut you down with her music”
Born in Johannesburg, in 1932, her father died when she was six. Her mother, Sangoma, and brother encouraged her into music. In 1954, she gained her first public appearance as a vocalist with the group Manhattan Brothers. In the ’50s her participation as a female lead in the legendary King Kong musical and her appearance in the documentary film “Come Back Africa” exposed her internationally. She was invited to visit Europe and the United States of America.
Miriam Makeba left home when she was 27. Her singing career led her to meet people like Harry Belafonte. She was to be away for four weeks, but overwhelming success and international accptance made her stay indefinite. According to her, she never knew that she had been banned from her country, South Africa, until 1960, when she tried to go home after her mother’s death but was refused.
Miriam believes in African Unity and she continues to emphasize the needs of black people after centuries of oppression. Eight years ago she received a lifetime achievement award at the African Kora music awards.
She has performed for the pope three times and sung for many world leaders. Her work with HIV/AIDS extends to her duties on the commitee of the United Nations Development programme. She is also a proud ambassador of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
She recollects some of her sweet memories, for example her homecoming concert in 1990. “I always feel that some superior being gave me this voice and whatever goes with it to be able to soothe, capture and sometimes make people angry. I am not a politician, I do not sing politics, I merely sing the truth,” she said.