Music Legend Miriam Makeba Is Dead At 76
reggaewire | November 11, 2008 at 01:33 pmby
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Makeba, nicknamed "Mama Africa" by a worldwide legion of fans and famed for hits such as "Pata Pata", "The Click Song", died of a heart attack in a Naples hospital after she collapsed as she left the stage at a benefit concert in Castel Volturno on Sunday.
"One of the greatest songstresses of our time Miriam Makeba has ceased to sing," said South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in a statement.
The singer "died performing what she did best -- an ability to, communicate a positive message through the art of singing".
Born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932, Makeba became one of Africa's best known singers and while Nelson Mandela was in prison took up the battle against apartheid through her music.
South Africa revoked her citizenship in 1960 and even refused to let her return for her mother's funeral. Makeba spent more than three decades in exile, living in the United States, Guinea and Europe.
She saw her music outlawed in her homeland after she appeared in an anti-apartheid film. But she was an international success, winning a Grammy award for Best Folk Recording with US singer Harry Belafonte in 1965 for the album "An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba".
"I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots," she said in her biography. "Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa, and the people, without even realising."
But she also met controversy abroad. Her marriage to civil rights activist and Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States and some of her concerts were cancelled.
Makeba performed for half an hour Sunday at a concert near Naples on behalf of an Italian writer, Roberto Saviano, who has received death threats after writing an expose of the Italian mafia.
"She had been the last one to go on stage, after the performances of other singers," said Carlo Hermann, an AFP photographer who covered the concert and witnessed fellow singers rush to her aid when she collapsed.
"There were calls for an encore and at that moment someone asked if there was a doctor in the house. Miriam Makeba had fainted and was lying on the floor."
Makeba was the daughter of a Swazi mother and Xhosa father.
She captured international attention as a vocalist for a South African group, The Manhattan Brothers, when they toured the United States in 1959. Her citizenship was taken away the following year.
She was briefly married to trumpeter Hugh Masekela, another famous South African artist who also spent long years in exile under apartheid.
Makeba had her biggest hit in 1967 with "Pata Pata" -- Xhosa for "Touch Touch", describing a township dance -- but unwittingly had signed away all royalties on the song.
She was often short of money and could not afford to buy a coffin when her only daughter, Bondi, died aged 36 in 1985. She buried her alone, barring a handful of journalists from covering the funeral.
According to her biography, she also battled with cervical cancer and a string of unhappy relationships. It said rumours of her alcoholism were unfounded.
While she was still in enforced exile, she performed with Paul Simon in the US singer's 1987 Graceland concert in Zimbabwe, neighbouring South Africa.
She finally returned to her homeland in the 1990s after Nelson Mandela was released from prison as the apartheid system they had both fought for so long began to be dismantled.
But it took her six years to find someone in the South African recording industry to produce a record with her. She entitled it "Homeland".
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