I first heard of Miriam Makeba on the awesome Paul Simon album Graceland (still one of the greatest), but I had no idea about her Miriam Makeba, the woman or Miriam Makeba, the activist. The Tribeca documentary Mama Africa directed with love by Mika Kaurismaki (a guy) is a wonderful biography of a woman who stood up for what she believed in, spoke out about apartheid and got her banned from her homeland for decades.
I was fascinated to learn that she was one of the first people to speak before the UN in the 60s and call for a boycott of South Africa. She was a great singer and always used her songs to talk about the inequities in the world. One of the great quotes from the film is: “I do not sing politics, I merely sing the truth.”
She waited for many years to be allowed back into S. Africa and during that time she clearly got involved in politics in other countries especially here in the US where she was embedded in the civil rights movement. She married Stokely Carmichael (I had no idea) and they moved to Guinea, and because of her marriage to Carmichael her records were banned and she lost a lot of concert dates around the world.
The movies was filled with music and stories from her family including her ex musician Hugh Masekela and her grandchildren. It was a very powerful story of a woman who had I not seen the film would have just remembered as a person I once heard on a album. I’m so glad I learned that she was so much more.
You have one more chance to see the film in NYC – this Sunday night at 7pm. Details here.