Mama Africa Miriam Makeba passes away in Italy

Written by on November 10, 2008 in u
Mariam Makeba

Nanima Mariam Makeba

Miriam Makeba’s last moments

Makeba suffered a heart attack shortly after a performance on Sunday evening in southern Italy in support of author Roberto Saviano’s campaign against the Camorra, the local version of the Mafia. She was 76.

The singer’s band, who returned to South Africa on Tuesday, gave details of the star’s final concert to the local media.

“She was enjoying herself,” Zamo Mbutho, a background singer and composer with the band, told a Sowetan newspaper. The audience had loved her performance, although she played fewer songs than originally planned. She finished off with “Pata Pata,” one of her best known hits, he added.


Pata Pata video

“After the song she thanked the audience, blew kisses at them with a radiant smile and left the stage. As she went past me, she put the mic on the drum. As she went down the stairs, she fell,” said Mbutho.

“It was the first time she left alone,” guitarist Mandla Zikalala told the Star.

National days of mourning for Makeba

November 12, 2008, 21:45
In honoring South Africa’s Goodwill Ambassador Miriam Makeba, President Kgalema Motlanthe has declared national days of mourning effective from tomorrow to the day of her funeral.

Motlanthe has also ordered that flags be flown at half mast at provincial and national levels and at diplomatic missions abroad. Condolence books will be opened both at the Union Building in Tshwane and Tuynhius in Cape Town

Makeba’s body was flown home this morning and is being kept at a funeral parlour in Soweto. The legendary singer died of a heart attack in Italy on Sunday.

Mama Africa’s mortal remains arrive home

November 12, 2008, 09:30

Miriam Zenzile Makeba’s mortal remains has just landed at OR Tambo International Airport in South Africa. Family members together with Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan are on hand to receive the remains.

Makeba, affectionately known as “Mama Africa” died after taking part in a concert in Italy for Roberto Saviano, a writer threatened with death by the Mafia.

Makeba was born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932 to Mpambane Caswell Makeba and his wife Nomkhondelo Christina in Prospect Township (which later became Soweto).

During her lifetime she became a legendary voice of the African continent in the fight against apartheid. She appeared on Paul Simon’s Graceland tour in 1987 and in 1992 had a leading role in the film Sarafina.

ROME (AFP) — South African singer Miriam Makeba has died aged 76 after being taken ill near the southern Italian town of Caserta following a concert, ANSA news agency reported Monday.


Pata pata video

She died overnight after taking part in a concert for Roberto Saviano, a writer threatened with death by the Mafia, the Italian agency said.

Miriam Makeba, known as “Mama Africa”, was the legendary voice of the African continent who became a symbol of the fight against apartheid in her home country.
She died just after having sung for half an hour for the young author of “Gomorrah” at Castel Volturno near Naples along with other singers and artistes.

She was taken ill and was quickly taken to a clinic in Castel Volturno where she died of a heart attack, ANSA said.

Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg on March 4, 1932. She made an international farewell tour in 2005.

Born from a Swazi mother and Xhosa father, Makeba captured international attention as vocalist for the South African group, The Manhattan Brothers, while they toured the United States in 1959.


Click Song

The following year, when she wanted to return home to bury her mother, the apartheid state revoked her citizenship and later also banned her music. As a result she spent 31 years in exile, living in the United States and later in Guinea.

She became the first black African woman to receive a Grammy Award which she shared with folk singer Harry Belafonte in 1965.

Two years later her fame sky-rocketed with the recording of the all-time hit “Pata Pata” (Xhosa for “touch, touch” describing a township dance) although she unknowingly signed away all royalties on the song.

Late Bongi Makeba

Late Bongi Makeba

She hit an all-time low in 1985 when her only daughter, Bongi, died aged 36 from complications from a miscarriage. Makeba did not have money to buy a coffin for Bongi, and buried her alone barring a handful of journalists covering the funeral.

Bongi Makeba (20 December 1950 – 1985) was a singer/songwriter and the only child of South African singer Miriam Makeba.

Bomgi Makeba was born in South Africa. She recorded only one album: Bongi Makeba, Blow On Wind (pläne-records) before she died of complications during childbirth in 1985, and is buried in Guinea. Some of her songs could be heard years later in her mother’s repertoire.


Miriam Makeba and Bongi Makeba

Mariam Makeba picked herself up again after Bongi’s death, as she did many times before, like when her father died at a young age, or when she recovered from cervix cancer, or her many unhappy relationships, or unfounded rumours of alcoholism, according to her biography.

She returned to South Africa in the 1990s after Mandela was released from prison but it took a cash-strapped Makeba six years to find someone in the local recording industry to produce a record with her.

She since released “Homeland” which contains a song describing her joy to be back home after the many years in exile in which she spoke out against apartheid and testified twice before the United Nations.
“I kept my culture. I kept the music of my roots. Through my music I became this voice and image of Africa and the people without even realising,” she said in her biography.



Miriam Zenzi Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma and her father, who died when she was six, was a Xhosa. As a child, she sang at the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, which she attended for eight years.

Makeba’s full name is Zenzile Makeba Qgwashu Nguvama Yiketheli Nxgowa Bantana Balomzi Xa Ufun Ubajabulisa Ubaphekeli Mbiza Yotshwala Sithi Xa Saku Qgiba Ukutja Sithathe Izitsha Sizi Khabe Singama Lawu Singama Qgwashu Singama Nqamla Nqgithi. In keeping with tradition, her full name contains the first names of her male ancestors followed by a one- or two-word description of their character.[1]

Makeba first toured with an amateur group. Her professional career began in the 1950s with the Manhattan Brothers, before she formed her own group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa.


Miriam Makeba performs with Hugh Masekela– South Africa freedom song.

In 1959, she performed in the musical King Kong alongside Hugh Masekela, her future husband. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to go to the US. Her break came when she starred in the anti-Apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa in 1959. She went to the premier of the film at the Venice Film Festival.

Makeba then travelled to London where she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her in gaining entry to and fame in the United States. She released many of her most famous hits there including Pata Pata, The Click Song (Qongqothwane in Xhosa), and Malaika. In 1966, Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under Apartheid.

She discovered that her South African passport was revoked when she tried to return there in 1960 for her mother’s funeral. In 1963, after testifying against Apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked. She has had nine passports, [2] and was granted honorary citizenship of ten countries.[3]

Miriam Makeba and Dizzy Gillespie in concert (1991).

Her marriage to Trinidadian civil rights activist and Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States, and her record deals and tours were cancelled. As a result of this, the couple moved to Guinea, where they became close with President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife. Makeba separated from Carmichael in 1973, and continued to perform primarily in Africa, South America and Europe. She was one of the African and Afro-American entertainers at the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaïre. Makeba also served as a Guinean delegate to the United Nations, for which she won the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986.

After the death of her only daughter Bongi Makeba in 1985, she moved to Brussels. In 1987, she appeared in Paul Simon‘s Graceland tour. Shortly thereafter she published her autobiography Makeba: My Story (ISBN 0-453-00561-6).

Nelson Mandela persuaded her to return to South Africa in 1990. In the fall of 1991, she made a guest appearance in an episode of The Cosby Show, entitled “Olivia Comes Out Of The Closet”. In 1992 she starred in the film Sarafina!, about the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings, as the title character’s mother, “Angelina.” She also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony where she and others recalled the days of Apartheid.

In January 2000, her album, Homeland, produced by Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn[4] was nominated for a Grammy Award in the “Best World Music” category[5]. In 2001 she was awarded the Gold Otto Hahn Peace Medal by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin, “for outstanding services to peace and international understanding”. In 2002, she shared the Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina. In 2004, Makeba was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Makeba started a worldwide farewell tour in 2005, holding concerts in all of those countries that she had visited during her working life. [3]

She died in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy, on 9 November 2008, of a heart attack, shortly after taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation.[6][7



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  1. Condolences to the family …lala ngoxolo Mama Africa
    you will always be rememberd ….

  2. Nansamba Odiirah says:

    Mama Africa, our minds will always flash back to the great performance you did a months ago, here in Uganda. We will live to miss you.