Miriam Makeba – Makeba Sings (1965)

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Zenzile Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a South African singer, songwriter, actress, United Nations goodwill ambassador, and civil rights activist. Associated with musical genres including Afropop, jazz, and world music, she was an advocate against apartheid and white-minority government in South Africa.

Born in Johannesburg to Swazi and Xhosa parents, Makeba was forced to find employment as a child after the death of her father. She had a brief and allegedly abusive first marriage at the age of 17, gave birth to her only child in 1950, and survived breast cancer. Her vocal talent had been recognized when she was a child, and she began singing professionally in the 1950s, with the Cuban Brothers, the Manhattan Brothers, and an all-woman group, the Skylarks, performing a mixture of jazz, traditional African melodies, and Western popular music. In 1959, Makeba had a brief role in the anti-apartheid film Come Back, Africa, which brought her international attention, and led to her performing in Venice, London, and New York City. In London, she met the American singer Harry Belafonte, who became a mentor and colleague. She moved to New York City, where she became immediately popular, and recorded her first solo album in 1960. Her attempt to return to South Africa that year for her mother’s funeral was prevented by the country’s government.

Makeba’s career flourished in the United States, and she released several albums and songs, her most popular being “Pata Pata” (1967). Along with Belafonte she received a Grammy Award for her 1965 album An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. She testified against the South African government at the United Nations and became involved in the civil rights movement. She married Stokely Carmichael, a leader of the Black Panther Party, in 1968.

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Musicians Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba were considered the power couple of South African jazz during the 1960s.

As a result, she lost support among white Americans and faced hostility from the US government, leading her and Carmichael to move to Guinea. She continued to perform, mostly in African countries, including at several independence celebrations. She began to write and perform music more explicitly critical of apartheid; the 1977 song “Soweto Blues”, written by her former husband Hugh Masekela, was about the Soweto uprising. After apartheid was dismantled in 1990, Makeba returned to South Africa. She continued recording and performing, including a 1991 album with Nina Simone and Dizzy Gillespie, and appeared in the 1992 film Sarafina!. She was named a UN goodwill ambassador in 1999, and campaigned for humanitarian causes. She died of a heart attack during a 2008 concert in Italy.

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Makeba was among the first African musicians to receive worldwide recognition. She brought African music to a Western audience, and popularized the world music and Afropop genres. She also made popular several songs critical of apartheid, and became a symbol of opposition to the system, particularly after her right to return was revoked. Upon her death, former South African President Nelson Mandela said that “her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us.” (by wikipedia)

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Makeba Sings! is the fifth album of Miriam Makeba (LP RCA LSP3321), released in 1965. The album charted at number 74 in the US album chart. (by wikipedia)

Hugh Masekela is responsible for most of the arrangements and leads an impressive groups of musicians for these twelve tracks.

Miriam Makeba, the multilingual singer affectionately known to the world as “Mama Africa,” had a turbulent life, in large part because of the odious presumptions and endless roadblocks of apartheid. The Afrikaner government of her home country, South Africa, tried to negate her with thirty years of exile—barring her even from attending her own mother’s funeral. But instead of silencing Makeba, her exile laid bare the cold cruelty of South Africa’s dysfunctional system, as well as racism across the globe, amplifying her rich, soaring voice on the world stage.

By the time South African apartheid fell in 1994 the world was a more open place, but Makeba’s work was not finished. She devoted the rest of her life to a litany of good causes, and spent her final moments two weeks ago singing at a concert in Italy, in support of Italian journalist Roberto Saviano, who has faced dire threats for his bestselling book about the Naples mafia. At 76, still radiating energy but possessed of a thinning voice, Makeba sang her mouth-popping international megahit “Pata Pata,” then walked off stage, collapsed, and passed away.

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History will remember Makeba mostly for her activist triumphs, no doubt. When it came to her music many of her obituaries dwelled on her two most famous songs, “Pata Pata” and “The Click Song,” and mentioned little else. But just as she was an important activist, in many places Makeba was as ubiquitous a pop presence as Louis Armstrong. Accordingly, she has left a huge body of recordings—including 28 studio and live albums, eight greatest hits compilations, and scores of videotaped live performances—that can be mined for lesser-known gems. In memoriam, music blog Global Groove has posted a download of Makeba’s out of print 1965 RCA Victor LP Makeba Sings. Released the same year as the Grammy-winning An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba, Makeba Sings finds the bold singer in a relatively straightforward context, delivering heartwarming tunes with fluttering tropical arrangements, the kind typically reserved for Disney scores.

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What peels this LP away from the bland conventions of retro calypso and exotica is Makeba’s searing voice, which spans at least three languages in 35 minutes and imbues captivating tracks like “Cameroon” and “Kilimanjaro” with an almost startling intensity.

If anything, Makeba Sings shows that Miriam Makeba was too smart, too passionate, and too dynamic a presence to be crammed into the staid format of the exotic ditty. Even if, like me, you were too young to witness her triumphant testimony against apartheid at the UN and never managed to attend one of her many farewell concerts, it can make for a nicely nostalgic listen. Put it on when you grow weary of the blizzard of live concert footage, LP rips, and photo-montage tributes posted on Youtube. (by Peter Holslin)

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Personnel:
Miriam Makeba (vocals)
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Sanford Allen (violin)
James “Chief” Bey (percussion)
Alfred Brown (viola)
Kenny Burrel (guitar)
Jimmy Cleveland (trombone)
Diane Comins (harp)
Bobby Donovan (flute)
Ronnie Fink (saxophone)
Morriss Goldberg (saxophone)
Milford Graves (percussion)
Jonas Gwangwa (trombone)
Auchee Lee (flute)
George Ockner (violin)
Seldon Powell (flute)
Ramapolo (trumpet)
Daniel “Big Black” Ray (percusion)
George Ricci (cello)
Jerome Richardson (flute)
William Salter (bass)
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background vocals:
Betty Mthombeni – Edith Grootboom – Ernest Mohlomi – Katse Semenya – Mamsie Gwangwa Paul Makgoba

Arranged and conducted by Hugh Masekela

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Tracklist:
01. Cameroon (Salter/Masuka) 2.51
02. Woza (Masakela) 2.57
03. Little Bird (Hall) 3.31
04. Chove-chuva (Ben)
05. Same Moon (Thomas/Martin) 2.40
06. Kilimanjaro (Davashe/Glazer) 3.00
07. Khawuyani-Khanyange (Masuka/Makeba) 3.19
08. Wind Song (Saks/Salter) 2.43
09. Khuluma (Khoza) 2.42
10. Let’s Pretend (Salter) 2.43
11. Beau Chevalier (Gollman) 2.14
12. Maduna (Makeba) 3.49

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Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008)

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