Sunday, March 21, 2010

Music and social activism: Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela

Today marks 50 years since the Sharpeville massacre in apartheid South Africa when police opened fire on a group of people peacefully protesting the country's dreaded pass laws. 69 people were killed. This incident was a major turning point in the fight against apartheid. Today this blog wants to salute the above named performers who were an integral part of the struggle to end this system.

Miriam Makeba

Miriam was born on March 4, 1932 in Johannesburg, South Africa. She gave her first solo performance at the age of 13 for the visiting British monarch King George VI. She began her professional career during the 1950s in South Africa performing with groups Manhattan Brothers and The Skylarks. She also appeared in an anti-apartheid film "Come Back Africa".

At the end of the 1950s Miriam was eager to take her talents outside of South Africa because she didn't feel that she was being justly rewarded in her home country. Harry Belafonte helped her in this regard helping her to get to the United States where she recorded her famous songs "Pata Pata" and "The Click Song". Miriam recorded 30 albums from 1960 to 2006. She won a Grammy for her collaboration "An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba in 1966.

By 1960 Miriam was strongly identified with the anti-apartheid movement. That year she returned to South Africa to attend her mother's funeral only to find that the government had revoked her passport. In 1963 she testified at the United Nations against apartheid and the South African government then revoked her citizenship rights. However she gained honorary citizenship in 10 other countries.

Miriam also suffered adversity in her personal life. Losing her father when she was only 6 years old. In the 1950s she also lost her first husband whom she married in her teens. She lost her only daughter in 1985. She was married a total of 4 times including Hugh Masekela from 1966-68. Her fourth marriage to controversial civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael (later known as Kwame Ture) caused her to lose her record deal as well as concert tours. Miriam and her husband then migrated to Guinea.

Miriam was able to return to South Africa in 1990 on Nelson Mandela's invitation after his release from prison after 27 years of incarceration.

This videoclip features a guest performance by Miriam Makeba on "The Cosby Show"

On November 9, 2008 Miriam made her transition from this life doing what she had done all her life. She was performing on a concert in Italy in support of Italian writer Roberto Saviano who was fighting against organized crime in his country. She died of a heart attack while performing "Pata Pata."

Hugh Masekela

Hugh was born in Witbank, South Africa on April 4, 1939. He took up the trumpet at the age of 14 and played in his country's first youth orchestra. During the 1950s he began writing songs protesting apartheid. After the 1960 Sharpeville massacre he went into exile.

He went to England where he attended London's Guildhall School of Music and also to the United States where he studied classical trumpet at Manhattan School of Music. He had a hit record "Grazing in the Grass" in 1968 which reached the top of the U.S. charts.

Having been exiled from the country of his birth, Hugh lived in other countries in Africa such as Ghana, Liberia, Guinea. In 1980 he set up a mobile studio in Botswana
for the benefit of his fellow South African musicians who were just south of the border. However in 1985 he had to flee Botswana for England when the South African army crossed over the border into Botswana and killed 14 people accused of terrorism. 2 of these people killed were his friends.

In 1987, Hugh released his famous anthem "Mandela (Bring Him Back Home)". This anthem's call was answered when Nelson Mandela was released in 1990. Like his ex-wife Miriam Makeba, he returned to South Africa that year. He had spent a total of 30 years in exile and was able to see his mother's grave for the first time.

Hugh has released over 30 albums over the period 1964-2009. He has worked with many performers including Bob Marley, Herb Alpert, Miriam Makeba, Paul Simon, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Today, he still keeps up a heavy touring schedule.

No comments:

Post a Comment