Biography of Miriam Makeba

Zenzile Miriam Makeba, popularly known as Miriam Makeba was born on the 4th of March 1992, in Johannesburg, South Africa to Christina Makeba and Caswell Makeba.

Miriam’s parents were both Swazi and Xhosa so she had a rich cultural upbringing, merging the best of both worlds. Life shortly took a sharp turn for Miriam, when her father died at a young age and she was forced to find a job, to fend and cater for her family. 

At 17, Miriam found herself in another tight corner, being married to an abusive husband and giving birth to her only daughter shortly after. Through all these trials, Miriam maintained her resolve, she was focused on her passion for music and she wasn’t going to let all the circumstances that surrounded her at the time deter her. 

In the 1950s, Miriam was determined to chase her passion, so she started singing professionally, performing with the Cuban Brothers, the Manhattan Brothers, and the skylarks. She sang mostly traditional, jazz, and African melodies. In 1959, she made her acting debut in an anti-apartheid movie called “Come back, Africa” which give her a break, as she later got invitations to perform in Venice, London, and New York shortly after. 

In London, she was fortunate to meet Harry Bellafonte, who agreed to mentor her, but she soon moved to the USA, where she made her first album in 1960 called “Miriam Makeba ”. After the release of her album, Miriam’s popularity grew and she continued to release more songs and albums. One of her famous tracks is “Pata Pata” a song on the album ” Pata Pata” released in 1967. Miriam won her first Grammy award for her 1965 album, “An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba” and later won three more. 

Miriam’s love and passion for activism and ensuring the political rights of black people made her interested in advocacy activism. She made a bold move by testifying against the South African government at the United Nations on the issue of apartheid. The government retaliated by refusing to let her into the country. 

In 1968, Miriam married Stokely Carmichael, a vocal and prominent civil rights activist and a leader of the Black Panther Party. The US government cancelled Miriam’s visa afterwards, with no home to return to Miriam, she and her husband Carmichael decided to move to Guinea for a fresh start. In Guinea, Miriam continued to perform for local events and around Africa. She began to make conscious music, speaking about the effects of apartheid, documenting events that occurred at the time in her music. After the apartheid system in South Africa was abolished, she returned home after Nelson Mandela convinced her to and settled down again in South Africa. She collaborated with Nina Simone and Dizzy Gillespie in her 1991 album and featured in Sarafina in 1992. 

In 1999, the UN named her as its Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organisation, and she served, carried out, and championed many charitable causes during the period. She established the Makeba centre for girls, a home for young orphans. 

Miriam Makeba was popularly called “Mama Africa” for how much she fought and loved Africa and represented the continent home and abroad. 

In her later days, she suffered from osteoarthritis, which made it difficult for her to perform, so her grandchildren, Nelson Lumumba Lee and Zenzi Lee started assisting her during performances. 

On 9 November 2008, Miriam Makeba died of a heart attack after performing her hit song “Pata Pata ” in Castel Volturno, Italy.

Read Also: Biography of Yasmin Mogahed

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