For as long as I can remember, Miriam Makeba has been the female voice of South Africa, as well as an international ambassador for the causes of liberation and justice. This compilation is worthy of its subject; having been put together with the help of Makeba herself, it gives a good picture of her entire career and includes her most popular songs.
Makeba made her recording debut with The Manhattan Brothers in 1953, on the track "Laku Tshone 'langa". Aged 21, she had been plucked from rival group The Cuban Brothers. In truth, the two tracks here by The Manhattan Brothers are largely of historical interest; the group are Ink Spots copyists, and (despite their huge popularity in South Africa) rather corny ones at that! That certainly cannot be said of Makeba's next venture, The Skylarks, the all female group she formed in 1958. Although the group's line-up varies across the nine Skylarks tracks here - "Miriam wants hard workers. If you're slow on your feet, she'll take someone else" - these tracks are the centrepiece of this album, with a vitality and spontaneity that is refreshing. Outstanding Skylarks tracks include "Uile Ngoan'a Batho" with Spokes Mashiyane, and the gospel-drenched "Hush".
In 1959, Makeba starred in the "jazz opera" King Kong that was highly successful, and led to international tours and her eventual exile from South Africa. Two songs here from King Kong reveal themselves as typical show tunes, rather disappointingly so. From 1960 onwards, Makeba became a celebrity, achieving runaway success in the USA where she was feted by the likes of Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis, and performed for JFK at the birthday concert more remembered for Ms Monroe's performance. Makeba had hits with "The Click Song" (treated as something of a novelty number because of the characteristic clicks of the Xhosa language) and "Pata Pata" (which charted in the USA in 1967, but was recorded in 1956).
The eight tracks here that cover Makeba's later career are varied and good, but have the impossible task of representing over thirty years work. (And, doubtless, for copyright reasons, not all of her recordings from this period were available to Wrasse.) Nonetheless, they do manage to convey the spirit of her later career, and include fine collaborations with both Dizzy Gillespie and with Nina Simone.
Ultimately, it is not possible to do justice to a career like Makeba's in a single CD (or even a double) but this selection does as a good a job as possible, and is particularly strong on her early career.
Personnel: Miriam Makeba, vocals, plus many others including The Manhattans, The Skylarks, Spokes Mashiyane, The King Kong cast, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone.