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10.11.2008 Africa

Mandela mourns icon Miriam Makeba


Former South African President Nelson Mandela has paid tribute to singing legend Miriam Makeba, who has died aged 76 after a concert in Italy.

She was the "mother of our struggle" and "South Africa's first lady of song" Mr Mandela said.

Makeba became a symbol of the fight against apartheid and spent three decades abroad after South Africa's government revoked her passport.

Mr Mandela said her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile.

"She... richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika," Mandela said in a message.

Pan-African appeal

"Her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us. Even after she returned home she continued to use her name to make a difference by mentoring musicians and supporting struggling young women," Mandela said.

South Africa's governing African National Congress (ANC) also paid homage to her musical contribution "to the liberation of South Africa".

Makeba, was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932. Her singing career started in the 1950s as she mixed jazz with traditional South African songs.

She came to international attention in 1959 during a tour of the United States with South African group the Manhattan Brothers.

She was forced into exile soon after when her passport was revoked after starring in an anti-apartheid documentary and did not return to her native country until after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990.

Makeba was the first black African woman to win a Grammy Award, which she shared with Harry Belafonte in 1965.

Charlie Gillett, who presents the BBC World of Music programme, says there is nobody to compare to her, as she was popular in West Africa - after living in exile in Guinea - and East Africa for recording a version of the Swahili song Malaika, as well as her home in South Africa.

She was African music's first world star blending different styles long before the phrase "world music" was coined.

After her divorce from fellow South African musician Hugh Masekela, she married American civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael and moved to Guinea.

It was while living in exile in the US that she released her most famous songs, Pata Pata and the Click Song.

She appeared on Paul Simon's Graceland tour in 1987 and in 1992 had a leading role in the film Sarafina!

"You sing about those things that surround you," she said. "Our surrounding has always been that of suffering from apartheid and the racism that exists in our country. So our music has to be affected by all that."

Source: BBC