By Katlego Moncho
In the spirit of Africa Month, it was a joy to hear that one of Africa’s most beloved female musicians and human rights campaigner would be immortalized through a play that celebrates her life and her contribution to the African community.
Mama Africa, or Empress of African Song as she was often referred to, died in 2008 at the age of 76, but her spirit and music live on. With popular songs such as Pata Pata, Malaika, Khawuleza and the iconic Click Song, she was the first vocalist to put African music on the international map, and it is only right that her memory be honoured.
Born to a domestic worker for a mother in 1932, she loved to sing from a young age. She sang her first solo in 1947 during the Royal Visit. Her music career kicked off when she sang for her cousin’s band the Cuban Brothers, but it was only in 1954 when she started singing for the Manhattan Brothers that recognition for her talent started to build.
To add onto her already versatile profile, she appeared in two movies; Come Back Africa in 1957 and King Kong in 1959. She had a small part in Come Back Africa, while she had the female lead role in King Kong. Through her skills in the two movies, her reputation in the music industry was cemented throughout the world.
She married her King Kong co-star Hugh Masekela.
She was to receive an award for her role in Come Back Africa at the Venice Film Festival in 1959 and so she was flown there so that she could receive it. Unfortunately, she encountered trouble with the then South African government because of the negative attention they received through the film. Due to not receiving enough royalties in South Africa, she chose to stay abroad.
However, the South African government revoked her passport, exiling her and making sure that she never returns.
She stayed in London after the Venice Film Festival where she then met Harry Belafonte. He helped her immigrate to the USA where she became an overnight sensation, preforming for the then US President John F Kennedy at Madison Square Garden.
She married Stokely Carmichael, a militant African-American Civil Rights Activist and Black Panther leader. However, harassment from the US government forced her to move to Guinea. This would prove to be a difficult time for her as she had been separated from her husband, and her daughter Bongi died in tragic circumstances.
She continued with her music career, performing for heads of states including the Pope. In 1966, she won a Grammy award for An Evening with Harry Belafonte, which would only prove to be one of her many prestigious awards.
When Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he encouraged her to return, which she did after 31years in exile. She became a goodwill ambassador for South Africa to the United Nations. She continued making music, despite struggling to find collaborators, and in 1997, she embarked on her Farewell Tour, also making an appearance in the movie Mama by Patte Doumbe.
She achieved so much more, continuing her humanitarian work through her Zenzile Miriam Makeba Foundation, which on its own had sub groupings. The segment in the video is an interview that was done on eNCA news on the upcoming play to honour this powerful icon.
It’s a definite must see.