Miriam Makeba

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Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba (born March 4, 1932 in Prospect Township , Johannesburg , † November 10, 2008 in Castel Volturno , Italy ), full name Zenzile Makeba Qgwashu Nguvama Yiketheli Nxgowa Bantana Balomzi Xa Ufun Ubajabulisa Ubaphekeli Mbiza Yotshwala Sithi Mbiza Yotshwala Sithi Xa Sakuti Khabe Singama Lawu Singama Qgwashu Singama Nqamla Nqgithi , also known as Mama Africa , was a South African singer and a representative of world music . Since her exile in 1960 she fought against the apartheid policies of South Africa at the time and stood up for human rights.


Youth and first successes in South Africa

Miriam Makeba was born as a child of the domestic help and healer Zenzi Makeba, a Swazi , and of the teacher Caswell Makeba, a Xhosa . She was the youngest child and had three sisters and a brother. Her birthplace, Prospect Township, was an inner-city slum in eastern Johannesburg that was demolished in 1936. A few weeks after her birth, her mother had to serve a six-month prison sentence, so Miriam Makeba also spent this time in prison. Her father died when she was six years old. Makeba attended Kilnerton Training Institute, a primary school in Pretoria , for eight years , where she also sang in the choir. After attending school, like her mother, she worked as a domestic help for white people . In 1949 she married her childhood friend James "Gooli" Kubay and in 1950 gave birth to their only daughter, Bongi Makeba . The marriage was divorced the following year.

Miriam Makeba began her musical career as a singer in the groups Cuban Brothers and Manhattan Brothers , with whom she recorded her first single as a soloist in 1953, Lakutshona Ilanga. After touring with Dorothy Masuka , Dolly Rathebe and Lionel Pillay in Alf Herbert's show African Jazz and Variety (probably 1954) , she performed again with the Manhattan Brothers in 1955 . The first recordings were made under his own name. In 1956 she founded the singing group The Skylarks (German about: "Die Lerchen"), which consisted only of women; first recordings were made (still as The Sunbeams ) with her half-sister Mizpah and Johanna Radebe; Since 1957 she has appeared in a quartet with the Skylarks (soon with Mummy Girl Nketle, Mary Rabotapi and Abigail Kubeka).

In 1959 she married the jazz singer Sonny Pillay of Indian origin. In the same year she was the leading actress in the successful musical King Kong . The jazz musician Hugh Masekela was also engaged there. Also in 1959 she played a small role as the Shebeen singer in Lionel Rogozin's anti- apartheid film Come Back, Africa , which attracted international attention.

Decades in exile

Makeba (1969)

Makeba was a result of their film appearance at the premiere of the film to the International Film Festival of Venice invited. She then appeared on the Steve Allen Show , a television show in the United States . Shortly after she brought her daughter to the United States, her mother died. The South African authorities denied her entry to the funeral. Harry Belafonte helped her move to the United States and made her first appearances in Los Angeles and New York . This started her world career. Makeba's greatest international musical success is the song Pata Pata (1967) written on isiXhosa . This song made it to number 12 in the US charts and to number 14 in the German charts. Her other well-known songs include The Click Song , Malaika, Soweto Blues and a version of Mbube (The Lion Sleeps Tonight), which she performed at the celebration of John F. Kennedy's 45th birthday in Madison Square Garden on May 19, 1962 sang. In 1963 she addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the first time and called for a boycott of the South African apartheid regime. As a result, the South African government revoked her citizenship; their records were banned in South Africa. From 1964 to 1966 she was married to Hugh Masekela, with whom she also performed together. In 1968 she married civil rights activist and Black Panther activist Stokely Carmichael . They were then monitored by the FBI ; the record and tour contracts were terminated, so that the couple emigrated to Guinea , where Makeba had already been granted citizenship in 1963 after being expatriated from South Africa.

There Miriam Makeba and her husband became good friends of President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife. In addition to Guinean citizenship, Makeba also received Algerian citizenship. In autumn 1974 she performed with James Brown , BB King , The Spinners and The Crusaders at a major concert in Kinshasa in Zaire, Africa . It was part of the supporting program for the historic Rumble in the Jungle boxing match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali .

In 1978 Makeba and Carmichael were divorced. Miriam Makeba then became the second wife of Bageot Bah, a Belgian Muslim who was an airline employee. Bongi Makeba died in Guinea in 1985 , after which Miriam Makeba moved to Brussels . In 1987 she accompanied Paul Simon worldwide on his Graceland tour and sang with him in the duo Under African Skies (documented in Zimbabwe ). In 1988 she performed with Hugh Masekela at the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute Concert in London.

Return to South Africa

After three decades of exile in the USA, Guinea and Belgium, she returned to South Africa in June 1990, at Nelson Mandela's request , and from December 1990 lived again in Johannesburg.

Miriam Makeba with Dizzy Gillespie (1991)

In 1991 she went on tour with the jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie , in 1992 she was at the side of Whoopi Goldberg in the film adaptation of the musical Sarafina! to see. She has been named South Africa's Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations. In 2004 she founded the ZF Makeba Trust to safeguard her legacy. This trust includes the Miriam Makeba Rehabilitation Center for Abused Girls, which offers protection to abused girls. On September 26, 2005, Miriam Makeba announced her departure from the stage. One last world tour took her through the USA, Cuba, Brazil, Venezuela, Scandinavia and Germany. On May 25, 2006 Miriam Makeba gave her last concert in Germany at the 18th Africa Festival in Würzburg.

On November 9th, 2008 Miriam Makeba performed at a benefit concert for the writer and journalist Roberto Saviano, who was threatened by the Camorra , in Castel Volturno , Italy. Shortly after her performance, she suffered a heart attack and died in hospital early in the morning on November 10th. Their ashes were given to the sea.


Makeba's songs contain elements of traditional music from southern Africa, but also western pop, jazz and folk music. With Mas que nada , for example , she also interpreted Brazilian songs. Mostly she sang in English or isiXhosa , but also in other South African languages; in Malaika she sings in Swahili . According to Jon Pareles of the New York Times, her voice could sound “light, warbling and girlish”, but also “flirtatious, bluesy or extremely exuberant”. In addition, the same critic heard "a layer of unsmoothed, sharper exhortations, the tone of village songs and evocations".



Solo albums

year title Top ranking, total weeks, awardChartsChart placements
(Year, title, rankings, weeks, awards, notes)
1962 The World of Miriam Makeba US86 (10 weeks)
1964 The Voice of Africa US122 (4 weeks)
1967 Pata pata US74 (22 weeks)

More studio albums

  • Miriam Makeba , 1960
  • Makeba , 1963
  • Makeba Sings , 1965
  • An Evening With Belafonte / Makeba (with Harry Belafonte), 1965
  • The Click Song , 1965
  • All About Makeba , 1966
  • Malaisha , 1966
  • Keep Me In Mind , 1970
  • A Promise , 1974
  • Country Girl , 1975
  • Comme une symphonie d'amour , 1979
  • Sangoma , 1988
  • Welela , 1989
  • Eyes on Tomorrow , 1991
  • Sing Me a Song , 1993
  • Live From Paris & Conakry , 1998 (1974/1977)
  • Homeland , 2000
  • Reflections , 2003
  • Forever , 2006

Live albums

year title Top ranking, total weeks, awardChartsChart placements
(Year, title, rankings, weeks, awards, notes)
1967 Miriam Makeba In Concert! US182 (4 weeks)

Compilations (selection)

  • Africa 1960–65 recordings , 1991
  • The Best Of Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks 1956–59 recordings , 1998
  • Mama Africa: The Very Best of Miriam Makeba , 2000
  • The Guinea Years , 2001
  • The Definitive Collection , 2002
  • The Best of the Early Years , 2003


year Title
Top ranking, total weeks, awardChart placementsChart placements
(Year, title, album , rankings, weeks, awards, notes)
1956 Lovely Read
The Voice of Africa
- - - US45 (9 weeks)
1968 Pata pata
pata pata
DE14 (10 weeks)
- CH48 (2 weeks)
US12 (11 weeks)
Chart entry in Switzerland only in 2008
pata pata
- - - US85 (2 weeks)
2002 Sansi Bar
Carnival Hits
DE33 (8 weeks)
- - -
Höhner feat. Mama Africa
2011 Hi-A Ma (Pata Pata) DE33 (8 weeks)
AT32 (8 weeks)
- -
Milk & Sugar feat. Miriam Makeba

gray hatching : no chart data available for this year


  • Come back, Africa. Feature film, South Africa, USA, 1959, written by: Bloke Modisane , Lewis Nkosi , Lionel Rogosin , director: Lionel Rogosin
  • Sarafina! Music film, South Africa, Great Britain, USA, 1992 117 min., Director: Darrell Roodt, with Whoopi Goldberg among others; The film is about the youth riots in Soweto in 1976, Makeba portrays the mother of a youth.
  • When We Were Kings . Documentary, directed by Leon Gast , is about Rumble in the Jungle 1974 and contains concert recordings by Miriam Makeba. When We Were Kings won the 1997 Oscar for best documentary.
  • Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony. Documentary, South Africa, 2002, 108 min., Director: Lee Hirsch
  • Mama Africa . Documentary, Germany, South Africa, Finland, 2011, 91 min., Director: Mika Kaurismäki


In 1987 Miriam Makeba wrote the book together with the American James Hall:

Web links

Commons : Miriam Makeba  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Michael Pilz: The lioness sleeps - on the death of Miriam Makeba welt.de, November 10, 2008
  2. Miriam Makeba: Goodbye, Mama Africa! in the time of November 11, 2008
  3. a b Mama Makeba ( memento from October 17, 2013 in the Internet Archive ) in mokant.at from January 26, 2012
  4. ^ History of the demolished districts of Johannesburg sahistory.org.za (English), accessed on May 21, 2016
  5. Miriam Makeba at fembio.org (English), accessed on October 26, 2018
  6. a b c d Miriam Makeba im Rheingau ( Memento from September 28, 2015 in the Internet Archive ), article from August 22, 2004
  7. a b c d e f life data at newworldbuzz.com (English), accessed on May 21, 2016
  8. a b c Miriam Makeba on 78rpm (electricjive.blogspot.com) , accessed June 7, 2019
  9. Miriam Makeba before the UN General Assembly (video; 45 sec.), Accessed on May 20, 2016
  10. a b c "It remained largely unknown in South Africa": Journalist Frank Räther on Miriam Makeba (DLF) , accessed on June 7, 2019
  11. obituary in djazairess.com (French), accessed on May 21, 2016
  12. "Mama Africa" ​​is dead. Domradio.de from November 10, 2008, accessed on May 23, 2016
  13. ^ "Mama Africa" ​​died in Italy in the Hamburger Morgenpost on November 10, 2008
  14. "Miriam Makeba, 76, Singer and Activist, Dies" , New York Times , November 10, 2008, accessed May 20, 2016
  15. ^ Jon Pareles: Taking Africa with her to the world. New York Times November 10, 2008, accessed May 21, 2016
  16. a b c Honorary doctorate 1993, 1998, 2002 iol.co.za of November 18, 2002 (English), accessed on May 20, 2016
  17. List of recipients of the medal 1999 (English), accessed on August 25, 2018
  18. List of recipients of the order 2009 ( Memento of December 17, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) (English)
  19. Description of the Miriam Makeba School ( Memento from May 21, 2016 in the Internet Archive ), accessed on May 21, 2016
  20. a b c Chart sources: DE AT CH US