Mama Africa: the singer Miriam Makeba, Queen of Africa

The story of Miriam Makeba (1932-2008) is one about her voice, her wonderful songs and her rise to fame, but it is also a story about Africa during the 20th century and the battle against apartheid, rascism and misery. It is a story that Finnish director Mika Kaurismäki (Three Wise Men, The House of Branching Love, and the upcoming The Girl King) recounts brilliantly in the musical documentary Mama Africa.

Forced to leave her South African homeland after having sung in a film that criticised apartheid (Come Back, Africa by Lionel RogosinVenice Film Festival, 1960), Miriam Makeba was helped by the American singer and actor Harry Bellafonte to become established in the United States, where she began her rise to fame. A true star, she performed, amongst others, at John F Kennedy’s birthday in 1962. Amongst her best-known songs are ‘Pata Pata’ (1967) and ‘The Click Song’, which plays on the special sounds of her native language.  Her marriage to the leader of the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael,forced her back into exile in 1968, to Guinea. She once again found success in 1987 with ‘Graceland’, produced in collaboration with the American artist Paul Simon. The singer fought for more than half a century to denounce apartheid and other injustices, notably through discussion with the UN, and it wasn’t until 1990, 40 years after her exile, that she returned to South Africa at the behest of its new president, Nelson Mandela.

Blending rare archive pictures, interviews with those close to her and who knew the singer well and with young African artists who have drawn on Miriam Makeba’s musical heritage, as well as plentiful footage of the singer performing live, Mama Africa, a German/Finnish/South African co-production, will be available on video on demand from 15 May in Italy, Denmark and Norway, within the Documentaries From Around the World collection by Walk This Way.


14. mai 2015, av Cineuropa