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DR MIRIAM MAKEBA (article first published : 2001-05-19)

At the University of Natal's Durban graduation and diploma ceremonies held last month, internationally-renowned singer Miriam Makeba was awarded an honorary doctorate in music.

A legend of South African music and politics, Miriam Makeba was born in 1932 in Johannesburg. She has never regarded her singing talent as separable from the anti-apartheid struggle, even as she maintains that she has never been involved in politics - but in “telling the truth”.

Telling the truth in song began for Miriam Makeba in the 1950s when her voice attracted world attention to the township musical King Kong. The play became an icon of anti-apartheid protest and she took the show abroad and effectively exiled herself for 30 years. During this time her talent helped focus international concern on South Africa. It was fitting that she starred in Sarafina.

Her numerous performance highlights include featuring on Paul Simon's 1987 Graceland Worldwide Tour with former husband Hugh Masekela and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. She toured the world's stages with Dizzy Gillespie, and Odetta and Nina Simone. In 1988, her autobiography Makeba, My Story was an international success. In 1995 she was featured in a Vogue magazine story highlighted by a photo session with Iman and David Bowie. She continues to be in demand around the world and in 1999 sold out both London's Royal Festival Hall and Paris's Olympia Theatre.

A street has been named after her in Maule, Guadeloupe, and she has been honoured with numerous honorary doctorates and prestigious awards. She has performed before world leaders such as JF Kennedy, Francois Mitterand and Nelson Mandela. She has had private audience with Pope John Paul II and her Christmas performance in the Vatican in 1995 was filmed and televised worldwide. She is the recipient of the 1986 Dag Hammarsköld Peace Prize for her anti-apartheid activism and is currently the United Nations' Food and Agricultural (FAO) ambassador.

Her frequent returns to South Africa since 1990 continue to mix music with social concern. Her new humanitarian project is the Makeba Centre for (destitute) Girls in Mpumalanga. Her latest CD, which fuses the 50s sounds of the Manhattan Brothers to the kwaito rhythm of the 90s, is appropriately titled Homeland.




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