Her detailed obituaries have already been written by The New York Times, the International Herald Tribune, the BBC, among others. (The BBC also published the text of Nelson Mandela’s tribute to Makeba’s life and work.)
This was sad news. I’m personally old enough to have seen Miriam Makeba on the Ed Sullivan Show — and she impressed that little girl way back then as a riveting performer. Her political witness was lost on me then. Later, I came to understand that she was a lifelong warrior for justice, exiled from her native South Africa for many years for her anti-apartheid stance and statements.
Even later, when I taught Introduction to World Religions, I used to play a prayerful song from her album Sangoma, Kulo Nyaka, when we talked about some of the characteristics of indigenous religions, and another, Mabhongo, right before the first test of the semester.
Here is what Makeba herself said about “Mabhongo”:
“Mabhongo” is a war chant. The word combines “courage” and “confidence” and in its sound you can hear these powerful emotions. In olden days, the prople sang this to the warriors who were on their way to battle. The chant calls for a complete victory.
I hope this is a fitting way to remember Miriam Makeba: as one whose voice sang out, and led others, in the evocative call for complete victory in the fight for freedom and justice. May her song live on in our memory.