Miriam Makeba Has Died
November 10, 2008 7:03 AM   Subscribe

Miriam Makeba, 1932-2008. "Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years. At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us" -- Nelson Mandela posted by fourcheesemac (46 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Loved her version of "Mbube."

posted by darkstar at 7:09 AM on November 10, 2008

Damn. That lady could sing.
posted by jonmc at 7:11 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Her version of Mbube
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:13 AM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Awesome, fourcheesemac! Thank you!
posted by darkstar at 7:19 AM on November 10, 2008

I saw the news earlier this morning, we've lost a great voice, in song and for people. She was singing till the end, and still standing up for what she believed in.
posted by pupdog at 7:26 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by ms.jones at 7:27 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

So sad. I remember first seeing her on the old Merv Griffin program on WNEW-5 in New York in the 1960s. What a wonderful voice and talent we've lost.
posted by paddbear at 7:28 AM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

It's really sad and bizarre. I'm in Amsterdam right now visiting my friend and we had planned to go see her on Friday night, 3 days ago. But we decided not to go at the last minute because we were too tired and hungover from the night before. Man, I wish we went.
posted by chococat at 7:34 AM on November 10, 2008

posted by The Ardship of Cambry at 7:42 AM on November 10, 2008

posted by ceri richard at 7:45 AM on November 10, 2008

I always liked listening to her music on rainy days. It certainly is raining today.
posted by Alison at 7:59 AM on November 10, 2008

Pata Pata is a great song, one of those you didn't know you knew. Wonderful voice.

posted by flatluigi at 8:00 AM on November 10, 2008

posted by ardgedee at 8:02 AM on November 10, 2008

Oh I'm so glad she was singing up to the very end. I feel lucky that I was able to see her sing live a few times. Her voice was both powerful and filled with joy.
posted by tractorfeed at 8:09 AM on November 10, 2008

I saw her on Paul Simmon's Graceland Tour. Great voice.

posted by DaddyNewt at 8:10 AM on November 10, 2008


The Click Song - really called Qongqothwane, but an anglo like me can't say that - was our wedding song, because it was the most celebratory song my husband and I could think of.
posted by jb at 8:12 AM on November 10, 2008


A true performer until the very end.

Thanks for everythiing, Miriam! Rest well.
posted by trip and a half at 8:13 AM on November 10, 2008

posted by zouhair at 8:20 AM on November 10, 2008

Well, shit.

Thank you, Miriam. You're going to give that angels' choir a run for its money.

posted by rtha at 8:51 AM on November 10, 2008

Aww, such a deep pang of loss hearing this news. I loved her! The Lioness is gone.

How much joy her voice and her brave presence in the world brought to me and millions of others all over the world. She will be so missed by so many. How wonderful she lived to see South Africa be freed from its former political shackles. She had an important part in that.

Look what joy she had, right from the start of her career in 1960. Brilliant! A seemingly effortless grace. Astonishing.

Hers was for decades the female voice of Africa that Westerners knew before Mandela freed South Africa in 1991.

What a great person she was, singer and political activist. Amid the go-go boots superficiality of 1966, her Khawuleza was incredibly powerful. It became mingled with the songs of the Civil rights Movement of the mid-60's, Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, melded with Malcom X's righteousness and finally, 25 years later Mandela's rise to power in 1991, his winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993.

After traveling from South Africa to Venice in 1959, her mother died in 1960. The apartheid government wouldn't let her return to South Africa for her mother's funeral. It took her *30* years before she could return to South Africa, when Mandela won power after being released from prison in 1990. No doubt, that injustice must have revved her courage to speak out in those much more racist days.

Here as a young woman, 28, Miriam is speaking in front of the UN, in 1963, impassioned and moving, against apartheid.

The Click Song is her singing in the language of the Xhosa language that has all these clicks of the tongue. Quite cool. She was half Xhosa.

A little documentary about her. She survived several car accidents, a plane crash, cancer and decades of apartheid. She was 76. She got a good run.

Here with Paul Simon during that great Graceland South African music comes to the West heyday in 1986.

When my dad was getting his degree in geology in South Africa between 1954 and 1959, I was a baby there, between the ages of six months and 4 1/12. South African nannies, who spoke Zulu, Xhosa and Afrikaans were my mothers, caretakers, companions and the languages I first heard when I learned to speak. My first word was Afrikaans for bug, gogga (pronounced hoh-ha). Just like this little kid.

South African women, the way they look, sound and are, all became part of the core of my being, as I'm sure happened for all the other white kids brought up by south African nannies. So sad and disturbing -and grossly unjust- to have that tenderness, caring and love come my way but it not be permitted by the white adults for my love to be openly expressed, go back, mutually, the way love naturally flows. I love it that Miriam talks about that in this brief documentary about those oppressive days. It's heartbreaking. How she remained so warm and loving, in spite of that is truly awesome.

The Xhosa alphabet of clicks.

She was and will always be an amazing inspiration to those who know about the wrongness of apartheid, the huge injustices in South Africa and how a singer, like her, a young woman, could have such a political impact in her life. How much she accomplished with her beautiful voice, bringing awareness of the human degradation of apartheid to middle class white folks in the West, who would otherwise not have wanted to pay attention to what was happening in that far away corner of the world, where diamonds and gold for their engagement and wedding rings came from.

Makeba collapsed on stage Sunday night after singing one of her most famous hits "Pata Pata," her family said in a statement. Her grandson, Nelson Lumumba Lee, was with her as well as her longtime friend, Italian promoter Roberto Meglioli.

"Whilst this great lady was alive she would say: 'I will sing until the last day of my life'," the statement said.

And she did sing to the last day of her life.

She lived to see Obama elected! I'm glad of that! She had a part in that too.

Her singing, When I've Passed On.

Rest in peace Miriam Makeba.
posted by nickyskye at 9:08 AM on November 10, 2008 [21 favorites]

When I started reading that comment, I knew it was you, nickyskye. Thanks!
posted by trip and a half at 9:17 AM on November 10, 2008

ditto, nickyskye! Thanks.

what a great contribution she made!
posted by Wilder at 9:23 AM on November 10, 2008

Seconding the shout-out for Pata Pata; it's one of the most joyous songs I've ever heard.

posted by The Card Cheat at 9:29 AM on November 10, 2008

posted by Lynsey at 9:40 AM on November 10, 2008

Powell House, the Quaker retreat center whose weekend youth programs generally kept me from going crazy as a teenager, has a very close relationship with Pata Pata. During my teen years in the late 80s, a 45 of Pata Pata hung on a nail next to the record player. It was played every Friday night, and there was a dance similar to the electric slide (but with more funky chicken) that everyone would do, the older kids teaching the younger ones. After being played (and dancing to it) at regular speed, we'd do it again all fast and crazy at 78, and if we were really feeling it that night, we'd play it slowly at 33 which allowed us time to add extra flourishes to the dance moves. The Pata Pata dance was created before I got there and I assume it still lives on today. Hearing it still makes me want to jump up out of my chair and dance goofily around the room.

I didn't know anything about the woman who sang it until today. Thanks so much for the post.
posted by chowflap at 9:41 AM on November 10, 2008 [6 favorites]

Chances are, KEXP's african music program "The Best Ambiance" will have something up tonight in dedication to Miriam Makeba, for those who want to tune in. John Kertzer has an amazingly well done program, and afterwards the entire thing will be available on podcast.
posted by mrzarquon at 9:42 AM on November 10, 2008

I was just coming here to post this, thank you. There's a clip (real audio) of a newer version of Pata Pata which she sings with her grandaughter Zenzi Lee.
Makeba has always rejected the label of political singer or political activist, countering the claim with the assertion that she merely conveys the truth. "Everybody now admits that apartheid was wrong, and all I did was tell the people who wanted to know where I come from how we lived in South Africa. I just told the world the truth. And if my truth then becomes political, I can't do anything about that."

"And your marriage to [Stokely] Carmichael was not, as many claimed, a political statement?"

"How can anybody say that? In this country, for instance, there are people, couples [where] one is Republican and one is Democrat. But no one looks at that as anything. I never seconded any of Stokely's statements. I mean, he went out there and made his own statements, and he believed in what he believed in. And I can say he died believing in that. He never changed."
posted by jessamyn at 9:43 AM on November 10, 2008 [4 favorites]

Sangoma, her 1988 "comeback" album of traditional Xhosa folk songs, is amazingly rich, confident and mature - not to mention joyous. "Umam' Uyajabula" still gives me chills after years of listening.

posted by mediareport at 9:55 AM on November 10, 2008

In all the obits it mentions her grandchildren Nelson Lumumba Lee and Zenzi Monique Lee and great grandkids but not the parents of her grandkids, her own children or her ex-husband, Stokely Carmichael. Thanks to your comment jessamyn, my curiosity was piqued.

So I had to find out what was up with that. Oh my God, what a story, worth reading: very good Salon interview by Adele Stan with Miriam Makeba.

When I left [South Africa] and went to Europe ... the manager I had then had me sign so many things. And you would be surprised -- I have never had one cent from 'Pata Pata.' I should be a millionaire," she says.

"But, you see, that is the sad story of Makeba. People keep beating me on the head with a hammer." Her voice tamps down to a whisper. "And I keep getting up."

posted by nickyskye at 10:25 AM on November 10, 2008

posted by languagehat at 10:25 AM on November 10, 2008

My brother had me put Pata Pata on the playlist for his wedding reception in Rome. All the Europeans jumped onto the dance floor at the first few notes. Here in the US, I've since noticed it in a few hipster DJ sets, but I guess it didn't have the exposure here that it must have had there.
posted by StickyCarpet at 10:44 AM on November 10, 2008

posted by mike3k at 11:18 AM on November 10, 2008

StickyCarpet, I remember hearing it a lot when I was growing up the the mid/late 1960s. Merv Griffin (of all people!) had Miriam Makeba on his show a few times, and she sang Pata Pata there. I think you have to be of a certain age and have grown up in a certain part of this country, perhaps, to recognize the song at the first few notes.

I remember my 9-year old sister begging my mother to buy the Makeba album so she could learn how to sing the song--and failing, but still loving it.
posted by paddbear at 11:19 AM on November 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

Oh, that is sad news. I have a lot of good memories that spring from hearing her music.

posted by Nick Verstayne at 11:28 AM on November 10, 2008

posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:42 AM on November 10, 2008

I grew up to her voice on records spun by my folky parents, alongside Balkan Folk and Odetta and Buffy Saint Marie and the Bulgarian Choir and all the others. The power of the political voice - we need more of that.

posted by Rumple at 1:10 PM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by Wolof at 1:55 PM on November 10, 2008

Oh, man. I loved her music so much. I remember discovering her in college and wondering how such a rich, expressive woman wasn't popular world-wide.

She gave us so much. When I hear her sing, I usually cry, except now it'll be for a different reason.

posted by Unicorn on the cob at 2:24 PM on November 10, 2008

chowflap writes "It [pata pata]was played every Friday night, and there was a dance similar to the electric slide (but with more funky chicken) that everyone would do, the older kids teaching the younger ones."

What a fun dance! I learned it at Camp Swig (in the hills near Saratoga, CA) back in 1976 or so. For some reason I always thought it was Israeli pop, and I'm quite chagrined to learn only now that it was Miriam Makeba. At least now I know the song name and artist.

I used to think Mahna Mahna was sung in hebrew, too, on account of hearing a parody in an Israeli radio ad.
posted by Araucaria at 4:22 PM on November 10, 2008

The Guardian has an obituary and a video tribute, and a lengthy article from last Spring.
posted by Rumple at 4:59 PM on November 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by salishsea at 10:02 PM on November 10, 2008

posted by LobsterMitten at 10:55 PM on November 10, 2008

posted by lapolla at 1:16 AM on November 11, 2008

Yesterday i posted on my blog about the special place she has occupied in my heart since I was a tiny (very white) child. My parents owned Pata Pata, which to us was really happy music that had a lot of neat sounds and rhythms in it. Even though we were very familiar with "folk" music, this sounded more popular or modern, with more energy, so it was always one of our favorite things to put on the ol' turntable.

My brother and I, ages 4 and 5 or so, would dance around the living room and put on shows of what we thought African music and dancing was like. We had a drum that my dad's friend had made (and my brother reminded me yesterday that he used his own stomach as a drum :P), and we wrapped ourselves up in this piece of brown flowered fabric that we thought kind of resembled kente cloth. We called ourselves Mamim and Mimam. We would dance and dance and dance, and then my mom and dad would start clapping and we'd say, "No! We're not done yet!"

Then I rediscovered her later on with the advent of mp3s, and it made me happy to know of her all over again. Favorite songs: "Pata Pata," of course, as well as "Ring Bell," "I Shall Sing" and "The Click Song."

So glad she got to see the world change, and so glad she got to sing about it all.
posted by Madamina at 10:12 AM on November 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nantsi Indoda Emnyama is the first song on my Reasons To Get Out Of Bed mix, it's so full of joy.

It was only recently that I learned that the words mean "Watch out, here comes the black man, Verwoerd." Now I have more reasons to love the song, and her voice.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:17 PM on November 15, 2008

Sad news. I only just read this having looked at the Obituary section of an old Economist. They are very good at choosing interesting people to do obituaries about. Here it is anyway.
posted by rongorongo at 2:43 AM on November 25, 2008

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