Friday, June 11, 2010

Miriam Makeba: Mama Afrika

Mark Hudson reviews Miriam Makeba's Mama Afrika.
The first African artist to make an international impact, banned from her native South Africa, exiled from her adopted America, Miriam Makeba is once, twice, maybe even four or five times an icon. Having returned in triumph to South Africa in 1990, she collapsed and died on stage in 2008, after a life so dramatic it continually threatened to overshadow her music. If the woman who earned herself the title Mama Afrika is still more revered and talked about than actually listened to, even in Africa itself, this epic retrospective gives an opportunity to assess the music that paralleled the life. And it makes fascinating, often surprising listening.
While Makeba emerged on to a burgeoning South African music scene buzzing with jazz and gospel influences, in the early Fifties, her early recordings sound tentative, even polite to modern ears. Yet there’s a touching gravity that marks out her slightly warbling contralto on the delightful lullaby-like Ntyilo Ntyilo, and the beautifully handled show tune The Back of the Moon, from the all-black musical King Kong, shows she had the poise of an all-round international entertainer before she even set foot outside South Africa. Pata Pata, recorded when she was the darling of Broadway during the honeymoon period of her exile in Sixties’ America, has a confident bounce.
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