Zenzile Miriam Makeba was a well-known South African singer, actress, and civil rights activist who was awarded a UN Goodwill Ambassador. Mama Africa, as she is sometimes known, is the lady who brought African traditional music sounds to the world stage and performed in many nations throughout the world, garnering enormous popularity in the process. She was a passionate opponent of white supremacy, which was prevalent in South Africa during the 1960s and 1970s, and spoke out in support of anti-apartheid activities throughout her life until circumstances improved dramatically in the 1990s. It wasn’t easy for Miriam to find her musical voice while going through a difficult childhood, but she displayed the qualities of a great artist. She overcame her handicap, and her “no excuses” attitude earned her a spot among Africa’s top artists. She won a Grammy for her album ‘An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba,’ and is widely recognized for popularizing afro-pop in the United States. Afro-pop is a music genre that combines African Zulu and modern music elements.
Childhood and Adolescence
Miriam Makeba was born in a poor black family in Johannesburg, South Africa, on March 4, 1932, to a domestic worker mother and a Xhosa teacher father, who died when Miriam was just six years old.
Miriam’s life has been difficult from the moment she was conceived, as her mother was jailed just days after she was born for possessing a beverage that was illegal to sell and produce in South Africa. Miriam had to spend the first six months of her life in jail with her mother as a result of this.
Miriam began singing in the chorus at a Methodist school in her hometown when she was a child, sowing the seeds of a future filled with music in every pore. She began singing in English as well as traditional African Xhosa, Zulu, and Sotho languages as she grew older.
Miriam, despite being a small child, had to work to survive after her father died. Their family of six children was completely reliant on her mother and Miriam. Miriam married a narcissistic cop when she was a teenager, and he used to beat her up.
Miriam was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was 18 years old. Her mother, who was also a traditional healer, was the one who treated her. Miriam eventually discovered a new method to cope with her problems and began focusing on her music.
Miriam began her professional musical career as a member of the South African band ‘The Cuban Brothers,’ but she quickly became bored and, at the age of 21, discovered her passion for jazz music.
She collaborated with ‘The Manhattan Brothers’ and ‘The Skylarks,’ an all-female group that fused traditional African singing with westernized jazz tones. It struck a chord with music fans on a deeper level, and these two bands began to be referred to as trend-setters in local and, to a lesser extent, international media.
Miriam’s first solo breakthrough came in 1956 when she released her first solo album, named ‘Lovely Eyes,’ on Gallotone Records. The album was released in the United States, and it was the first South African album to chart on the Billboard 200.
The anti-apartheid campaign in South Africa was gaining steam at the time, and Miriam came out in full support. She made a cameo appearance in the documentary film ‘Come Back, Africa,’ which went on to win the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.
Miriam received international notoriety as a result of the film’s success, and she was hired on to perform throughout the United States and Europe. In the late 1950s, she arrived in London and met Henry Belafonte, whom she viewed as a mentor.
She launched the song ‘Pata Pata,’ which is still one of her most well-known songs, and catapulted her into the ranks of the world’s top musicians. During this time, she alternated between London and New York, and she married an Indian guy for a short time before divorcing and relocating to New York City to focus on her music.
She intended to return to South Africa for personal reasons in 1960, but she was denied entry, resulting in a three-year exile. Miriam continued to make music and enchant Americans with her musical abilities, and she was dubbed “the most intriguing young musician.”
Her songs ‘The Click Song’ and ‘Malaika’ became popular in the United States because they introduced Americans to African sounds, which was a welcome change.
Miriam’s fame drew the attention of then-US President John F. Kennedy, who claimed to be a major fan of the singer and invited her to perform at his son’s birthday party in 1962.
Three years later, she and her tutor, Harry Belafonte, made a duo album called “An Evening with Belafonte and Makeba,” which won the Grammy for best folk album of the year in 1966. The duos ‘Train Song’ and ‘Cannon’ were also well-received across the country.
In the mid-1980s, her career took another big turn when she met Paul Simon, a cult icon in the American music industry. She went on a magnificent ‘Graceland’ tour, which completely transformed her life and formally presented Miriam to the European countries.
The tour also provided her with an opportunity to speak out against apartheid in South Africa and raise awareness for the cause.
Nelson Mandela invited Miriam back to South Africa after his release from prison in the early 1990s. Miriam gave a concert in London’s Wembley Stadium in June 1988 to commemorate Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday. Miriam published ‘Eyes on Tomorrow’ in 1991 with Nina Simone, and went on a world tour to promote the album.
She continued to make music and perform concerts in the following years, with more fans in the west than in her own country.
Miriam’s Personal Experiences
Miriam Makeba married James Kubay, a trainee police officer, for the first time in 1949, and they had a kid, Bongi Makeba. The marriage did not work because Kubay beat her up frequently, and they divorced after two years of marriage. Her second marriage, to musician Hugh Masekela, took place in 1964 and lasted two years.
She married Stokely Carmichael for the third time. He was a civil rights activist who was Trinidadian-American. The pair first relocated to Guinea, then to Belgium, but after 9 years of marriage, they divorced.
Years of Finality
Miriam said her final goodbyes to the world on November 9th, 2008. She had been ailing for a long time, and her death was finally attributed to a heart attack.
She continued to make songs and raise awareness for various concerns among African youngsters until her last breath.
Estimated Net worth
Miriam is one of the wealthiest World Music Singers, as well as one of the most popular. Miriam Makeba’s net worth is estimated to be $7 million, according to Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider.