Miriam Makeba - the Empress of Africa

It will have surprised no one that Miriam Makeba died as she had lived, in full voice and in support of a political cause.

The 76 year old singer suffered a fatal heart attack, it was announced yesterday, shortly after performing at a concert in southern Italy in honour of Roberto Saviano, a journalist whose work in uncovering the Camorra mafia has earned him death threats and a life in hiding.



Makeba, or Mama Africa as she was known to her legion of fans around the world, became the first global African star both through her music and her lifelong willingness to adopt an outspoken stance on the political issue of the day – apartheid.



Yesterday it fell to South Africa's other global icon, Nelson Mandela, to pay tribute to her: “She was the mother of the struggle and the nation. She gave voice to the pain of exile and separation. It was fitting that her last moments were spent on a stage, enriching the hearts and lives of others - and again in support of a good cause."



The woman hailed as the "Empress of Africa" left her audience calling for more. After performing to more than one thousand people in Castel Volturno -- a Camorra stronghold where six African immigrants were shot dead two months ago by the mafia - the crowd was begging for one last song.



"There were calls for an encore and at that moment someone asked if there was a doctor in the house,” said a photographer attending the show. “Miriam Makeba had fainted and was lying on the floor." She had died of a heart attack after collapsing on stage.



As the news reached her homeland yesterday morningm callers besieged radio talkshows, many of them in tears, all of them talking about her voice, her activism and her humour.



The emergence of the girl from Johannesburg onto the world stage had also come in Italy at the Venice film festival in 1959. After her first big break in the musical King Kong which had to be performed on South Africa university campuses for it to be seen by a black and white audience, she came to the attention of US film director Lionel Togosin.



He included songs by her in his controversial documentary 'Come Home Africa' which caused a stir later the same year at Venice and Makeba was flown in for the occasion. The film painted a bitter portrait of the life of black South Africans and the young singer's voice drew critical acclaim. The 27-year-old decided not to risk a return to her apartheid-ruled country and instead moved to London.



A year later when she tried to go home for her mother's funeral she discovered her passport had been revoked in South Africa, where they later banned her music after she denounced the evils of apartheid at the UN. She began what was to be 31 years in exile.



Deceptively slender, with a sultry voice, she was courted by a who's who of 1960s stars from Miles Davis, Nina Simone and Harry Belafonte to JFK, Marlon Brando and Bette Davis. She became the first African to win a Grammy in 1966 -- a meteoric rise for a girl who began on the tough side of a racial divide, and who had only been encouraged to sing in her cousin's group the Cuban Singers by relatives who told her that she sang like a “nightingale”.



It was during this period and with the backing of Belafonte who had arranged her US visa that she cut the two records that cemented her popularity beyond the shores of Africa: 'The Click Song' (Qongqothwane in her native Xhosa language) and 'Pata Pata' (the last song she sang on stage in Italy before collapsing).



However, her instinctive, political compass would complicate and ultimately curtail her America honeymoon. In 1968 at the height of the civil rights movement she married the black power activist Stokely Carmichael, her third husband. This was too much for the American mainstream and radio stations and concert promoters quietly dropped her from their schedules.



This second rejection was cushioned by an offer to return to Africa from Guinea's leader Sekou Toure, who gave her a diplomatic passport and used her star name to elevate his own status. The fact that she never explicitly criticised her former sponsor Toure prompted critics to accuse her of a human rights blind spot. Warm relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro only cemented this perception.

But she remained for millions on the continent the “Empress of African Song”.



While in Guinea she cut the stunning live album 'Appel A L'Afrique' which included the tender love song 'Malaika', long seen as an unofficial Panafrican anthem. It was produced by her compatriot and her second husband, the trumpet player Hugh Masekela.



After a comparative lull in her music career she came back to prominence in Paul Simon's Graceland tour in 1987. By now experimenting by mixing traditional South African songs with jazz, soul and pop she was firmly acknowledged as a pioneer of what came to be known as “world music”.



After Nelson Mandela was released from prison she was finally invited home in 1992, the ban on her music having been lifted four years earlier. "It was like a revival," she said of her homecoming. "My music having been banned for so long, that people still felt the same way about me was too much for me. I just went home and I cried."



She always rejected the notion that she had been consciously political and said that circumstance had dictated what she chose to sing about. “Our surroundings make us what we are,” she said in a recent interview. “Our surroundings were our suffering from apartheid and this racism business. We have love songs and we have lullabies too, because we have children and we have love.”



Musicians who played with her remembered her as a softer figure than some might have imagined who would always insist on cooking for guests and fancied herself as a great chef.



Although she played to packed auditoriums all over the world in 1997 on a “farewell tour” Makeba stayed musically and politically active with the UN and her own charities. Earlier this year she performed in the Democratic Republic of Congo in support of a campaign against sexual violence.



As South Africa went into mourning yesterday the country's foreign minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma summed up the loss: "One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing. Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song."

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior SQL DBA (SQL Server 2012, T-SQL, SSIS) London - Finance

£30000 - £33000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior SQL DBA...

C# Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, MVC-4, HTML5) London

£35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Web Develop...

Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

£60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

Law Costs

Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

Day In a Page

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution