Rest in Peace Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba, one of South Africa's most famous musicians, affectionately known as Mama Africa, has died of a heart attack


South African singer
Miriam Makeba (76) has passed away after taking ill following a concert, in the southern Italian town of Caserta, the Italian news agency ANSA reported Monday.

She was performing in a concert for Roberto Saviano, a writer threatened with death by the Mafia, the Italian agency said.

Miriam Makeba, known as "Mama Africa", was the legendary voice of the African continent who became a symbol of the fight against apartheid in her home country.

She died just after having sung for half an hour for the young author of "Gomorrah" at Castel Volturno near Naples along with other singers and artists.

She had taken ill and was rushed to a clinic in Castel Volturno where she died of a heart attack, ANSA said.

Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932. She made an international farewell tour in 2005. Her last concert in South Africa was in 2006 at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival.

Born from a Swazi mother and Xhosa father, Mama Afrika captured international attention as vocalist for the South African group, The Manhattan Brothers, while they toured the United States in 1959.

The following year, when she wanted to return home to bury her mother, the apartheid state revoked her citizenship and later also banned her music.

As a result she spent 31 years in exile, living in the United States and later in Guinea. She became the first black African woman to receive a Grammy Award which she shared with folk singer Harry Belafonte in 1965.

Two years later, her fame sky-rocketed with the recording of the all-time hit "Pata Pata" (Xhosa for "touch, touch" describing a township dance) although she unknowingly signed away all royalties on the song.

She hit an all-time low in 1985 when her only daughter, Bongi, died aged 36 from complications from a miscarriage.

Makeba did not have money to buy a coffin for Bongi, and buried her alone, barring a handful of journalists covering the funeral.

But she picked herself up again, as she did many times before, like when her father died at a young age, or when she recovered from cervical cancer, or her many unhappy relationships, or unfounded rumours of alcoholism, according to her biography.

She returned to South Africa in the 1990s, after former President Nelson Mandela was released from prison but it took a cash-strapped Ms Makeba six years to find someone in the local recording industry to produce a record with her.

She since released "Homeland" which contains a song describing her joy to be back home after the many years in exile in which she spoke out against apartheid and testified twice before the United Nations.

"I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots. Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa and the people without even realising," she said in her biography.

We hope to let you listen to Miriam Makeba online soon with a launch of the “Best of Miriam Makeba” in our Jukebox of South African Music.

Our South African Music JukeBox is worth a visit if you’re a fan of real South African music, and our Editor’s Picks Newsletter is essential reading.

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