Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mama Africa is no more

The death of a South African singer Miriam Makeba, came to me as a real shock. Just a year back my friend had given me her autobiography to read… ‘Kale Gane’ in Marathi. That was the first time I heard her name.

The book was really great. But while reading the book I really didn’t know that her thoughts would leave any impact on me.

Miriam was the South African folk singer and anti-apartheid activist famously known as "Mama Africa." She worked with many international singers and artists but unfortunately she was banned from her own country under apartheid.

Zensi Miriam Makeba was born on March 4, 1932 in Prospect township on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Her father was a teacher and her mother, a domestic servant, belonged to the Xhosa tribe. Miriam was educated at a Methodist school in Pretoria, and gave her first performance for King George VI when he visited South Africa. She also sang at weddings and funerals before joining the Black Manhattan Brothers.

She cemented her popularity when she toured in the role of a shebeen owner in the jazz opera King Kong in 1959. Four years later, Miriam Makeba appeared before the United Nations special committee on apartheid to call for an international boycott of South Africa. The South African government responded by banning her records, including hits like Pata Pata, The Click Song (Qongqothwane in Xhosa), and Malaika.

After three decades abroad, Makeba was invited back to South Africa by Nelson Mandela shortly after his release from prison in 1990 as white rule crumbled. "It was like a revival," she said about going home. "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."

At the age of 76, she suffered a heart attack and died at Rome on November 9.
This whole story just went through my mind as I read the news that Miriam is no more. In her book she has mentioned that first time when she went to perform at USA she was very unprofessional. She didn’t even know how to represent herself before the audience.

One of her experienced was so genuine that touched my heart forever. She, being a South African, gifted with a dark skin though it doesn’t fit into the definition of beauty of ‘white’ world. As a part of make up she used to apply lots of lipstick, foundation but in vein. Because that really never showed any difference on her black skin.

Miriam used to put layers of makeup to look like American singer of that time. Finally she realized that its of no use. 'The cosmetics were made for the white skin not for the black. It can only suit to the white so what is the use of putting layers on the face…..,' she said.

Her realization is still true. The concept of make up which include red lips, pink cheeks, pinkish eye shadows etc is not for the black skin. But still we black girls keep running behind this ‘artificial beauty’ and hide our natural colour.
I learnt a big lesson from this and never felt like wearing lipstick of any other make up after that.
( Inputs from The Telegraph Nov 12, 2008 and

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