Monday, November 10, 2008


Khawuleza means go quickly, and it's the name of one of the songs Miriam Makeba is known for. Sadly Makeba passed away on Sunday. She was the final act in a concert near Naples organized in to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organization.

I've already lost the link, but one of the obituaries I read said the audience was still clapping for an encore when the call went out for a doctor in the house. Here's a conventional news obituary and the very touching statement on her Web site.

To me Miriam Makeba is a larger than life figure and I'm sure my memories are pieced together not entirely accurately. Certainly it is true that Makeba died as she lived: an activist courageously supporting justice with her song. I hold the memory of her passing that she died with the sounds of affectionate applause as she quickly passed to a better place.

There are some lovely videos of Miriam Makeba on YouTube. I marked Khawuleza as a favorite quite a while ago. And I've searched Pata Pata over and over. That link was taken from Brazilian telivision and helpfully notes that Severino Dias de Oliveira, known as Sivuca was playing the guitar, and he seems to be playing in the Khawuleza video previous. Sivuca died last year. He collaborated with Makeba during her early career and arranged Pata Pata. He was a great artist and there's a truly wonderful video from Swedish TV in 1969 playing the accordian and vocalese.

Makeba was an International star in a way seemed so remarkable to me as a boy. I think I saw Makeba on the Ed Sullivan show, maybe not, but somewhere along the line encountered the Click Song. Discovering that clicks are a part of the Xhosa was one of those factoids that delighted me as a kid.

I'm not sure that as a boy I had much sense of geography. I was at least familiar with world maps and music drove my curiosity. Sergio Mendes and Brazil 66 were popular and Mas Que Nada was something of a revelation. I was prepubescent, so there was nothing sexual about it, but these, what we might call world music songs today, made me want to move and dance. I wanted to move my hips! Indeed one of the reasons I've searched for Pata Pata on YouTube is for the dancing. I've searched and can't locate it, but it seems to me that one of those old videos of Pata Pata has a break with a young girl dancing. I thought from the looks Makeba gave the child it must have been her late daughter, Bongi. I don't think so because she was too young and the dates don't really match. Still I mention the dancing because Makeba's songs and the few Brazilian songs that I heard as a child suggested a different way of dancing I'd never imagined before. I delight in seeing the dancing now.

A few summers ago I saw Miriam Makeba play at Hartwood Acres a county park near Pittsburgh which is one of the best venues for live performances I know. My sister and her children were visiting from Florida and we filled up the car to attend the show. My father is a Jazz buff and it was fun to see Evelyn Hawkins, then the new music director for the local Jazz station dance to Pata Pata. With radio voices we rarely know what the people look like. Ah, but Dr. Hawkins danced a dance like I would have dance top Pata Pata as a child.
"When they hear Pata Pata begin to play everyone gets up to dance."
Makeba collapsed after singing Pata Pata a song that spans generations. Daude's take on the song from around 1997 proves it's irresistible. I danced in the year 2000 with Miriam Makeba singing Pata Pata. It's very sad to have lost that voice.

Koranteng Ofosu-Amaah has a new toli up that's not to be missed. He's scanned many images from Drum Magazine, circa 1969. There's a whole set at Flickr. Koranteng is a wonderful storyteller, so the stories about Drum Magazine seem a heck of a lot more interesting than my recent curiosity about old Yankee Magazines. Obviously time moves on. All of what memory serves isn't very clear, but surely is important. I have no memory of Ghana in the late sixties, but the window into the times Koranteng provides is a very worthwhile excursion.

Time indeed goes quickly. Perhaps one use for reflection about the past, or at least some digging into the media of the past, is to see how alive with potential the present always is. So much water has run under the bridge in forty years time, and so many tears. Still, as we look at the life of Mariam Makeba there are so many tears, but triumph as well. She returned to South Africa after a long exile. Nelson Mandela became the duly elected president. Some dared to dream a new world. We can thank them by dreaming a better future and leading good lives.

1 comment:

maddie said...

I love the way you write John...
as if you are in the room
I can HEAR you ~

wonderful glimpse into Miriam's
life through your musings

and oh~!!! i am so envious
you actually saw her perform

and her voice is not lost John can play her music and
wiggle those hips of yours...

and her spirit is not lost either

:) thank you for this beautiful
tribute to a profoundly soulful