South Africa's Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) was one of the giants of the "world music" movement, an international star in the 1960s, with hits such as "Pata Pata," Makeba became an ambassador for African music, as well as for the cause of anti-apartheid black South Africans. Her fame was due in part to political circumstances: early in her career the South African government exiled Makeba, giving her extra incentive to succeed in the United States and Europe, which welcomed her with open arms. Harry Belafonte championed her career, and they frequently performed together in the 1960s. Makeba ran afoul of the United States government in the late '60s when she married the militant Black Panther leader Stokley Carmichael, and joined him in exile to the country of Guinea, from 1968-73. Blacklisted in the US, she remained more popular in Europe and Africa than in the United States. After the fall of apartheid, Makeba was finally able to return home to South Africa, and recorded and performed right up until her death in 2008. Here is a quick look at her work...

Discography - Best-Ofs

Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks v.1 (Teal Records, 1991)
Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks v.2 (Teal Records, 1991)

Absolutely mindblowing. Before her days as a 1960s folk scene/world music crossover superstar, South African diva Miriam Makeba was part of this somewhat humbler (but way more rocking!) "jive" group. A jazzy, Tin Pan Alley vibe predominates, though mixed with a skiffle beat and complicated, doo-wop-tinged group vocals. Beautiful female vocals and great guitar work -- these two discs are a real treat. If only more of this style of '50s African pop were available!

Miriam Makeba & The Skylarks "The Best Of" (BMG, 1998)
An 18-track best-of that covers the same turf as the Teal albums (listed above). Personally, I can't get enough of this stuff, so I'd recommend the two volume version as a matter of principle, but the fact of the matter is this music is so hard to find that if you come across this single-CD collection, don't hesitate to snap it up. It's great.

Miriam Makeba "The Guinea Years" (Sterns, 2001)
Like many politically-minded black South Africans, Miriam Makeba spent several decades in exile during the apartheid era. Following the 1961 Sharpville Massacre, where dozens of people -- including several of her relatives -- were shot to death while protesting the new pass laws, Makeba broke her silence on the evils of apartheid rule. The South African government responded by revoking her citizenship and permanently refusing to let her return to her homeland. It was really the government's loss, though: Makeba was a widely regarded international celebrity, and in the face of such bitter treatment by the Afrikaaners, she became one of the most effective public speakers in opposition to apartheid rule. At the end of the decade, Makeba returned to Africa, but instead of her mother country, Makeba moved to Guinea, where she and her husband Stokley Carmichael sought refuge from political persecution in the United States. In Guinea, Makeba hooked up with some of West Africa's greatest musicians, including the likes of Sekou Diabate and Famouro Kouyate. She recorded about thirty songs for the government-sponsored Syliphone label, about half of which are included on this great collection. Makeba sings in English, French, Arabic and numerous African dialects, including Xhosa, Nyanja, Shona and Guinea's local Maninka. The music is expansive and experimental, fusing her South African folk-pop style with soul music the lavish guitar work that the West Africans were perfecting at the time. Many of these tracks have languished out of print for decades, but now world music fans can hear a master musician singing at her peak.

Miriam Makeba "The Best Of The Early Years" (Wrasse, 2002)
Makeba's years with the Manhattan Brothers, the Skylarks and in her Guinean exile are all gathered together on this nice overview. Occasionally the transitions between her early "jive" style and the more plush folk-oriented material seem a little rough, but it's still a fine collection, and an excellent overview of her career.

Miriam Makeba "The Definitive Collection" (Wrasse, 2002)
Ditto with this set. There's signifcant overlap between this disc and the Wrasse label's Early Years best-of listed above, though this well-chosen collection dips further into her later years, including glossy remakes of of classics such as "Pata Pata," and collaborations with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Nina Simone. The inclusion of "The Click Song" makes this more of a must-have for American fans who grew up with it as part of their background, after it became a hit in 1962.

Miriam Makeba "Mama Africa: The Very Best Of Miriam Makeba" (Manteca, 2001)

Miriam Makeba "Miriam Makeba/The World Of Miriam Makeba" (Collectables, 2002)
A nice twofer reissue with material from two early albums, 1960's Miriam Makeba and The World Of Miriam Makeba, from 1963.

Miriam Makeba "An Evening With Belafonte And Makeba/The Magic Of Makeba" (Collectables, 2002)
Another twofer, pairing up An Evening With Belafonte And Makeba and The Magic Of Makeba, both from 1965.

Miriam Makeba "In Concert/Pata Pata/Makeba!" (Collectables, 2002)
This one is actually a threefer(!), combining 1967's In Concert and Pata Pata along with Makeba!, from 1968.

Discography - Albums

Miriam Makeba "The Many Voices Of Miriam Makeba" (Kapp, 1960) (LP)

Miriam Makeba "Miriam Makeba" (RCA, 1960)

Miriam Makeba "The World Of Miriam Makeba" (RCA, 1963)

Miriam Makeba "Makeba" (RCA, 1964)

Miriam Makeba "Makeba Sings" (RCA, 1965) (LP)

Miriam Makeba & Harry Belafonte "An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba" (RCA, 1965)

Miriam Makeba "The Magic Of Makeba" (RCA, 1965)

Miriam Makeba "The Magnificient Miriam Makeba" (Mercury, 1966)

Miriam Makeba "All About Miriam" (Mercury, 1966) (LP)

Miriam Makeba "Miriam Makeba In Concert!" (Reprise, 1967)

Miriam Makeba "Pata Pata" (Reprise, 1967)

Miriam Makeba "Makeba!" (Reprise, 1968)

Miriam Makeba "Live In Tokyo" (Reprise, 1968)

Miriam Makeba "Keep Me In Mind" (Reprise, 1970)
A surprisingly funky set, opening with the deep, electrified grooves of the opening track, "Lumumba" (anyone know who was in the backing band?) as well as covers of several pop/hip tunes of the time, such as Buffalo Springfield's "For What It's Worth," a couple by Van Morrison ("Brand New Day" and "I Shall Sing") and a truly horrible Beatles cover and an equally negligible rendition of CCR's "Down On The Corner." Despite the misfires, more than half the tunes on here are pretty good, including her non-English language originals. Certainly worth checking out.

Miriam Makeba "Live In Conakry -- Appel A L'Afrique" (Sonodisc, 1974)

Miriam Makeba "Miriam Makeba & Bongi" (Sonodisc, 1975)

Miriam Makeba "Pata Pata - Live In Paris" (1977)

Miriam Makeba "Country Girl" (Sonodisc, 1978)
This includes a version of Brazilian samba star Jorge Ben's super-funky "Xica Da Silva..."

Miriam Makeba "Comme Une Symphonie D'Amour" (Sonodisc, 1979)

Miriam Makeba "Sangoma" (Warner, 1988)

Miriam Makeba "Welela" (Gallo, 1989)

Miriam Makeba "Eyes On Tomorrow" (Gallo, 1991)

Miriam Makeba "Sing Me A Song" (DRG, 1993)

Miriam Makeba "Homeland" (Putumayo, 2000)

Miriam Makeba "Live At Berns Salonger, Stockholm, Sweden: 1966" (Gallo, 2003)

Miriam Makeba "Reflections" (Gallo/Heads Up, 2004)
Makeba revisits many of her older hits -- "Pata Pata," "The Click Song" and others -- with glitzy, big, modern world-pop arrangements. It's a surprisingly strong, fresh-sounding set, and even old-timers who are devoted to the old, original renditions should be cheered to hear Makeba still in such fine form. She also includes a couple of classic songs by Brazilian superstar Jorge Ben for good measure. More power to her!

Miriam Makeba "Makeba Forever" (Gallo, 2006)


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