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Miriam Makeba from the Story of South African Jazz Volume One

Miriam Makeba started her musical career singing with the Manhattan Brothers. In the mid-fifties the choice of music began to change. Miriam Makeba joined the Skylarks and became hugely popular.

In her memoires, Miriam Makeba wrote: "My very first record! The song is originally a Xhosa tune: “Lakutshuna Ilangu.” Mankhewekwe Davashe wrote the beautiful love song, which is about a lonely man who sits before the setting sun. He does not see his lover, and he is asking what has happened to her. He says, “I will come looking for you everywhere/in the hospitals, in the jails/until I find you/Because as the sun goes down, I can’t stop thinking of you.” Hospitals and jails: The Africans know what this means. Whenever one of us is missing for a time and we don’t come home, the first place the family looks is the hospital or the jail."

When married to Harry Belafonte, Miriam gave Hugh Masekela a massive boost by bringing him to New York, buying him an instrument and paying for his studies. Masekela was a babysitter for her daughter Bongi, whilst she kept up her busy schedule. He remembers in his memoires, "Miriam and Bongi taught me many beautiful songs from this genre, “Bajabula Bonke” (the Healing Song), “Ngi ya Khuyeka” (I Am Suffering), “Bay a Jabula” (The Ancestors and the Healers are Rejoicing), “Dzinorabiro” (I have Treasured My Traditional Heritage
from My Forefathers), “Nyankwabe,” “Icala,” and others—singing them was itself a healing."

Miriam Makeba is also known as Mama Afrika. She was recorded singing in the opening of the epic film 'Rumble in the Jungle' about Mohammed Ali over George Foreman in the Congo, made by Spike Lee. The film begins with Miriam Makeba's enigmatic, dramatic and rhythmic breathing - 'ha ha haa —shhhha.' Like a snake evoking the passion of the ancestors, like a spiritual guru possessing all with the beauty of her voice - those subtle sounds portray a vivid expression of the depth and meaning of African culture. Miriam Makeba had that ability to open her heart and release magic.

Interview Miriam Makeba

I interviewed her at Rosebank Mall in 2001 at the time of the release of her album 'Homeland.' The album is about the joy of returning home after exile. I asked Miriam Makeba how it felt to have been in exile, she said:

I always say I was away physically but mentally and otherwise I have always been home. I never forgot the languages; I could just still picture home the whole time.

I had mixed feelings. I was happy I was sad, I didn't know what to expect. I usually sleep on the plane but I never slept. I was scared. I had been away a long time. But, as soon as I got out of the airport and saw all of the people who were there, all the artists and my family, I felt quite at home. I just jumped into the rhythm right there. It was like I never left.

There was one leader that told me you should never refuse to go anywhere in Africa because when you sing your song, you sing to people all people and maybe you can change a lot of peoples way of thinking, just by your song. When you are invited, go and sing. So I have been to many many different countries, in fact there are only six countries in Africa I have never been to.

On her album, 'Homelands,' Miriam Makeba was celebrating the great joy of returning to her country after years and years in exile where she lived all over the world. Miriam said:

You find a strand of love in this album, love for ones country in ‘Masekane', love for ones country in ‘Homeland', how I miss my home how happy I am to be back. Love for ones continent for the song Africa is where it lies, love for ones' great grandson in the song ‘Lindelani' and in the song ‘In Time', I feel like I am talking about myself. 'In time you get older, in time you get married, I never once change my mind about the things I wanted in my life. I've been through changes like everybody else. My heart has been broken, but now the light shines on, the wounded heart will heal in time. God always answers ones prayer no matter how hard you will fall.


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