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goodbye Mama Afrika

November 15th, 2008     by Anna Leventhal     Comments

Global warming just got a little worse on November 10th… we lost someone pretty damn cool. Miriam Makeba was a South African singer and civil-rights activist who spoke out against apartheid and injustice in the strongest, sweetest, most melodic voice you could imagine. She was exiled from South Africa after she left to pursue a musical career in the US and found her passport had been revoked when she tried to return. But she was no less active (or controversial) a voice in America - she testified to the U.N. against apartheid, recorded an incredible canon of protest songs, appeared in documentaries and films (and on The Cosby Show!), and was married for a while to future Black Panther Stokely Carmichael.

As a person who grew up in a North American urban middle-class milieu, I am accustomed to a certain kind of protest song - that is to say, the kind that comes with screeching guitars and four-four beats and lots of angry yelling. Preferably with ponytails and fishnets and liberal doses of raging against The Man. But listening to Miriam Makeba makes me remember that anger and protest can take other forms and reach other audiences. What’s even more important is that Makeba makes the experience of people living under unjust conditions visible and palpable through her music, and that’s about as valuable as art can get, IMHO.

She collapsed after performing her hit song Pata Pata in concert last week, and died shortly thereafter. I know it’s cheesy to point out, but she really did die doing what she loved.

Here is Miriam Makeba in what I would guess to be the late 60s, singing Kilimanjaro.

Read obituaries for this exceptional human being here and here.

Tags: picks from planet venus, playlist

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