- Omotayo JolaoshoOmotayo JolaoshoSchool of Interdisciplinary Global Studies, Africana Studies, University of South Florida
Miriam Makeba (March 4, 1932–November 9, 2008) was among the first to popularize African music on a global scale. Nelson Mandela named her South Africa’s first lady of song; she was also nicknamed Mama Africa. Makeba has been credited with inaugurating the “world music” movement, a designation that she did not like as it marginalized music from a so-called Third World. Already renowned in her native South Africa as a sophisticated and highly sought-after performer in her own right, Makeba’s arrival in the United States in 1959 transformed that country’s music scene. She was a contemporary of Nina Simone and Odetta, with the three women credited for a resurgence of folk music in the United States as they drew songs of everyday life onto the concert stage. South Africa’s apartheid government revoked Makeba’s passport in 1960, when she sought to return home to bury her mother. She was a vocal critic of apartheid in exile, appearing before the United Nations (UN) on at least four occasions (including twice as a delegate of Guinea) to urge sanctions against the apartheid regime and mobilize support for Black South Africans caught under apartheid’s yoke. She supported US civil rights movement organizations and activists, and through her activism embedded US struggles for civil rights within a continuum of African liberation struggles, including anti-apartheid and anti-colonial liberation movements on the continent. She was a cultural ambassador who bore witness to the independence of many African countries through song, with countries for which her performances contributed to the ushering in of independent regimes including Kenya, Tanzania, and Mozambique. She was the only performer at the inaugural conference of the Organization for African Unity. As South Africa’s apartheid government began transitioning power, Makeba was able to return home in 1992 for a brief visit and subsequently decided to permanently return. Under South Africa’s democratically elected regime, Makeba was appointed an FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) Goodwill ambassador for the UN. She continued performing in her later years, but in November 2008 she collapsed following a performance in Italy and died from cardiac arrest. Her legacy continues through the work of the ZM Makeba Foundation.
- Southern Africa
- Women’s History