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Miriam Makeba

South African diva Miriam Makeba is well known throughout the world as Mama Africa and the Empress of African Song. She is African music's first and foremost world star. She is a pioneer who played her early songs and blended different styles long before anyone even began to talk about "world music." Her record production is spread across many companies all over the world - so far and wide that it's difficult to get a panoramic view of it. But no collection of African music should be without one or more of Miriam Makeba's recordings.

Miriam was born in Johannesburg. As a young girl of thirteen, she entered a talent show at a missionary school and walked off with the first prize. She was often invited to sing at weddings, and her popularity grew in leaps and bounds as more and more people became dazzled by her talent. In 1952 she was chosen to sing for The Manhattan Brothers and toured South Africa with them. As early as 1956, she wrote and released the song "Pata Pata."

She received invitations to visit Europe and America, where she came to the attention of Harry Belafonte and Steve Allen and was capitulated to stardom. 1959 saw her becoming the first South African to win a Grammy award for the album “An Evening with Harry Belafonte & Miriam Makeba.”

Miriam became an exile in 1960 when South Africa banned her from returning to her birth country - she was deemed to be too dangerous and revolutionary - this was after she had appeared in an anti-apartheid documentary, entitled "Come Back Africa", and this upset the then white apartheid government of South Africa. Miriam only returned to South Africa thirty years later.

In 1967, more than ten years after she wrote the song, "Pata Pata" was released in the United States and became a hit worldwide. It has since been re-recorded by numerous international artists. Miriam was a darling of the American public, but they turned against her when she married the radical black activist, Stokely Carmichael, in 1968. Once again, she was at the receiving end of a dissatisfied and disgruntled country. Although the United States never banned her, her US concerts and recording contracts were suddenly cancelled.

She moved back to Africa, this time to Guinea where she was welcomed with open arms. Miriam continued to record songs and toured intensively. She was well respected by the government of Guinea and was asked to address the United Nations General Assembly as a Guinean delegate. She twice addressed the General Assembly, speaking out against the evils of apartheid.

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Alexis Tantau
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