|Wednesday, May 19, 2021|
Harrisburg, PA, USA
Link to the video:
he very first time I heard about Miriam Makeba was the early months of 1977, precisely from January 12 into February. It was my final year in secondary school but also the 2nd World Black African Festival of Arts and Culture dubbed – FESTAC. Artists of African descent, from many nations around the world, had been invited to Lagos Nigeria to showcase their skills through music, arts, culture, drama and the likes. The first festival was held in 1966 in Dakar, Senegal.
In preparation for that event, under General Olusegun Obasanjo, who was Nigeria’s military head of state, Nigeria had built a magnificent cultural edifice, later called National Theater, at Iganmu Lagos for this event. It was a world class structure that always left people trying to decipher its significance. Sometimes it looked like the ceremonial hat of military personnel. But I digress
One of the artists that sang during the event was Miriam Makeba, a South African musician. On the evening she was billed to perform, she took the stage and mesmerized the audience with some songs. But the song that stood out in my mind was “Malaika”. With her sultry and soulful voice and her seductive stage presence, she belted out the song to the obvious delight of the audience. No, I was not in the national theater, but I was home in faraway Nnewi, in the south east, watching on TV, to the detriment of my school work of course.
I instantly fell in love with both the song and Miriam Makeba. Her beauty was fairytale like. She would raise her eyebrows intermittently as she sang and periodically made a hand movement that felt like invitation of the audience to the stage to participate in the song.
Miriam Makeba was no ordinary person. She used her songs to help fight and eventually dethrone apartheid South Africa, after she was barred from reentering the country after a tour. She stayed in countries outside South Africa and continued to tour, using her music stage as a platform to bring awareness of the evil of apartheid to the world.
The authorship of the song, Malaika, seems unsettled. Some say it was written sometime in the 40’s by a Tanzanian musician called Adam Salim. But what we do know is that the song found its fame only when golden voice, Miriam Makeba, laid her hands on it and sang it like no one had ever. It became a world class hit.
Miriam Makeba died in 2008. She was 76.
In the video, I reprise the song, “Malaika” aware that no voice will rival that of the African songstress but knowing that her memory will always be immortalized by remembering her song.