Friday, 25 November 2011


Mama Africa is the biography of Miriam Makeba, South African singer and anti-apartheid activist, the voice and the hope of Africa. Makeba was an incredible person. She was the first black African musician who won international stardom and whose music - that influenced artists across the globe - was always anchored in her traditional South African roots, as was her ceaseless message against racism and poverty.

Makeba was forced into a life in exile, after exposing the harsh realities of apartheid for the first time internationally through her participation in the 1959 documentary “COME BACK AFRICA”. She sang for John F. Kennedy and Marlon Brando, performed with Harry Belafonte, Nina Simone and Dizzie Gillespie, was married to Hugh Masekela and also Stokely Carmichael.

Her life was tumultuous. She always stood for truth and justice. She fought for the oppressed most importantly for black Africans, as a campaigner against apartheid. She died after collapsing immediately after leaving the stage at a concert in the Southern Italian town of Castel Volturno in November 2008. Makeba was 76.

This documentary, directed by Mika Kaurismäki, traces her life and music through more than fifty years of performing. Using rare archive footage of her performances, interviews and intimate scenes filmed over the years, we are shown a unique person, a world icon. Friends and colleagues, some who knew her since she started performing in the dance halls of South Africa (remember “Pata Pata”), together with her grandchildren Zenzi Monique Lee and Nelson Lumumba Lee, allow us know the remarkable journey of Miriam Makeba, “Mama Africa”. 

Some of the interviewed personalities include:-

Zenzile Monique Lee who is Makeba’s granddaughter. She was born in Manhattan, New York. Her mother Bongi Makeba Lee died in 1985. She grew up with her grandmother. Zenzi Lee sang as a backup vocalist for Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. Her debut album “Daynights” was released the 26th of November 1999 in South Africa. Nelson Lumumba Lee Lumumba Lee is Miriam Makeba’s grandson, and Zenzi Lee’s big brother. Lumumba Lee joined the Miriam Makeba Band on synthesizers and produced some of Miriam Makeba’s music.

Hugh Masekela, born on April 4th, 1939 in Witbank, SA, began singing and playing piano as a child. But at age 14 he began his career as a trumpeter. In the 60ies Miriam Makeba helped Hugh Masekela obtain admission to the Manhattan School of Music (NY). Masekela can be heard adding his trumpet, singing and arranging talents to some of the singer's very best records. In 1964 Makeba and Masekela married. Two years later, in 1966, they divorced and Masekela relocated to Los Angeles.

Angélique Kidjo is a Beninoise singer-songwriter and activist. Her music is influenced by her child-hood idol Miriam Makeba. Other musical influences include Afropop, Caribbean zouk, gospel, Congolese rumba, jazz and Latin styles. In 1989 Kidjo opened a Miriam Makeba concert and they became friends. In 2008 she won the Grammy Award for Best Con-temporary World Music Album. On Sept 2009, The Festival D'Ile De France in Paris asked Angélique to curate a tribute to Miriam Makeba.

Abigail Kubeka was discovered at the age of sixteen by Miriam Makeba, when she joined her female singing group, “The Skylarks” and understudied her in the acclaimed musical King Kong. Abigail has performed in every major country in Africa, Europe and Asia and is an acclaimed television, film and theatre actress.

Dorothy Masuku (a.k.a. Masuka) is a jazz singer who was born in Zimbabwe in 1935, then called Southern Rhodesia. Her family moved to South Africa when she was 12. By the time she was 19 she was touring in SA with singers she had admired as a girl. Masuku's music was popular in SA throughout the 50ies, but when her songs became more serious, the government began questioning her. Her song "Dr. Malan," was banned and in 1961 she sang a song for Patrice Lumumba which led to her exile. Being a friend of Miriam Makeba she wrote several of her songs and spent time with her in exile.

Joe Mogotsi was a band member of “The Manhattan Brothers” who have their origin in the early '30s. The group (consisting of four male vocalists) was one of the most influential vocal groups in the history of SA's music. During the late '40s and '50s, they appeared regularly on SA television and radio and influenced succeeding generations with their style of dress, speech, attitude, and lifestyle. In the early '50s, the Manhattan Brothers expanded with the addition of female vocalist Miriam Makeba who started her career and was part of the group for much of the ‘50s.

 Leopoldo Fleming is a musician, composer, lyricist and arranger with a rich and multicolored palette of inspiration from his Latin-Afro-Indian roots being Puerto Rican. He accompanied Miriam Makeba during her time in the US as did the bassist Bill Salter who wrote most of her English songs. Both musicians played with Makeba among others at the Live at Bern’s Salonger, Stockholm, Sweden”-concert in ‘66.

Kathleen Neal Cleaver From 1967 till 1987, was married to the Black Panther cofounder Eldridge Cleaver († 1.05. 1998). She was the first female member of the Black Panther Party’s decision-making body being the com-munications secretary. Today Professor Cleaver is working as a Senior Research Associate at the Yale Law School, and a Senior Lecturer in the African American Studies department at Yale University.

Lorraine Gordon is a jazz icon who has lived more than a few lives: downtown bohemian, uptown grande dame, music business pioneer, wife, lover, mother and finally – at a point when most women at her age were just settling into grandmotherhood – owner of the most famous jazz club in the world, the “Village Vanguard” in New York. This famous venue was where Miriam Makeba debuted in the USA.