Born March 4, 1932, Zenzile Miriam Makeba, popularly known as Mama Africa, was one of the first African musicians to gain worldwide recognition.
Makeba derived her musical inspiration from her family. After suffering from cervical cancer and an abusive marriage when she was 17, she started her professional musical career with the Cuban Brothers, a South African all-male close harmony group.
At 21, she joined the jazz group, the Manhattan Brothers, as the only woman. They sang South African songs and a mix of popular African-American ones.
Makeba later joined a new all-woman group in 1956 called the “Skylarks”. They sang a blend of jazz and traditional South African melodies. She received no royalties for her work until 1956 when Gallotone Records released Makeba’s first solo success which became the first song from South Africa to chart on the United States Billboard Top 100.
Makeba later moved to New York, making her US music debut in November 1959 on The Steve Allen Show in Los Angeles. Her career flourished in the United States with the support of Harry Belafonte.
Back home in South Africa, her passport was canceled and her mother and other family members had been killed in the Sharpeville Massacre. After the apartheid regime was toppled, Makeba returned to South Africa after persuasion by Nelson Mandela in 1990 following his release. She returned to the country with a French passport.
Makeba received loads of awards and recognition including the Grammy Award in 1966 with Harry Belafonte for the 1965 album, An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba; Polar Music Prize; Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize; Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold, among others.
To celebrate her birthday, Face2Face Africa shares with you 10 of her greatest hits:
Laku Tshoni Ilanga
The Click Song a.k.a. Qongqothwane
The Retreat Song
Hurry, Mama, Hurry! (Khawuleza)