Miriam Zenzi Makeba is affectionately known as Mama Africa and one of the first African divas. She is also nicknamed the Empress of African Song and a pioneer of Afro-pop music.
She was born in Johannesburg in 1932 to a Swazi mother and Xhosa father
She began singing in the 1950's with the Cuban Brothers which later became the Manhttan Brothers, a jazz band. She then performed with the Skylarks, an all-female vocal group, later in the decade. They sang a blend of jazz and traditional melodies.
She also sang as the female lead in the musical 'King Kong', about a boxer who kills his sweetheart and later dies in prison. 'King Kong' was a huge success in South Africa and also featured Hugh Masekela. After some trouble with the South African government surrounding the anti-apartheid documentary called 'Come back', her passport was revoked and she was denied entry into her homeland. She was also heavily involved in the fight against apartheid in her native South Africa. In 1963, after an impassioned testimony before the United Nations Committee Against Apartheid, her records were banned in South Africa and her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked.
She met Harry Belafonte in the 60's, with whom she recorded her hit song, Malaika. She had become the first black musician to leave South Africa on account of apartheid, setting the pace for many others. Miriam Makeba won the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba in 1966. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid.
Miriam was married to trumpet player and colleague Hugh Masekela, but they split in and she wed a Trinidadian civil rights activist and leader of the black power movement (Black Panther), Stokely Carmichael. This brought her undue controversy, leading to her records being banned and tours being cancelled in the US.
She won the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986. She returned to South Africa after persuasion from Nelson Mandela and starred in the critically acclaimed movie, Sarafina!, alongside Whoopi Goldberg and Leleti Khumalo. The movie was about the 1976 Soweto youth uprisings, and she played Sarafina's mother, Angelina. She also had a role in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony where she and others recalled the days of Apartheid. 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.
Some of her popular songs include Africa is where my heart lies, I shall sing, Mbube, Wonders and things, Saduva, Lindelani, Lima wechi, Lovely lies, Kilimanjaro, Teya teya, Suliram, Umhome, Nomeva, Amampondo, Olilili, Tula Ndivile, Intandane, Hush, West wind, African connection