VOICEOVER: She was a fighter and a legend with surely the most remarkable story in the history of African music. Miriam Makeba was the continent’s first superstar, although she was banned from her homeland South Africa for over 30 years in the apartheid era. She addressed the United Nations, sang for President Kennedy at his lavish birthday party at Madison Square Garden, and became internationally known for her attacks on the horrors of the apartheid system. But when I met her in Italy earlier this year, she insisted she wasn’t really political: she was just singing about her life.
Audio from an interview for the Guardian in May 2008 by Robin Denselow
MIRIAM MAKEBA, SINGER AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: People think I consciously just decided to tell the world about the happenings in South Africa. No. I was singing about my life, our lives in South Africa. And we draw our music and stories from our lives.
VOICEOVER: But Miriam Makeba should be remembered mostly for her music and the incredible variety in her work. She could tackle blues and jazz, and even Brazilian songs, but the starting point was always the rousing township styles that she learned growing up in South Africa, where she sang with the Manhattan Brothers and the Skylarks before she left the country and was banned from returning. The aim, she said, was to remind young South Africans of their heritage.
MAKEBA: We must not forget, but we must forgive. So I sing the songs of the old for the young ones to know where they came from and to know where they are, because if they don’t know that, they will never know where they are going. Neither would I.
VOICEOVER: Miriam Makeba never enjoyed an easy life. She survived cancer, four divorces, and the death of her only child. And although she was massively successful in America in the 60s, the music industry turned against her and her concerts were canceled after she became engaged to the radical black leader, Stokely Carmichael, with whom she moved to the West African state of Guinea. Back in South Africa, at the personal invitation of Nelson Mandela, she set up her own charity working with deprived children, and worked as a UN goodwill ambassador with food and agricultural organization.
MAKEBA: Let us love them, let us help them, because they are part of us.
VOICEOVER: Miriam Makeba died at the age of 76, after she collapsed while leaving the stage after a concert in Italy. On the street named after her back in Johannesburg, people paid tribute to the great singer.
JESSICA COWLEY, JOHANNESBURG RESIDENT: Well, it’s extremely sad, and she was legend. And, yeah, she was the most wonderful woman with the most beautiful voice.
JEMINA, JOHANNESBURG RESIDENT: It’s sad. No, we’ve lost an icon in South Africa, not only her family but all of us. We’ve lost a mother of the nation.
LOUIS KALOJI, POET: Miriam Makeba was not only a musician but an activist, a revolutionary who fought against all systems like apartheid. You know, she lived in exile for 31 years in the US and other countries before she came back to South Africa.
VOICEOVER: Africa has lost its first, and surely greatest, diva.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.