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Miriam Makeba: Google doodles Mama Africa's 81st birthday

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Mar 04, 2013 at 05:52am IST

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New Delhi: Google pays tribute to south African singer Miriam Makeba, one of Africa's best known voices and a champion of the fight against apartheid, with a doodle on her 81st birth anniversary.

Born on March 4, 1932, Miriam Makeba was also known as 'Mama Africa' and the 'Empress of African Song'. Makeba was the first black South African musician to gain international fame, winning renown in the 1950s for her sweeping vocals. She was loathed by South Africa's white minority rulers. She died of a heart attack after a concert in Italy on November 9, 2008.

Makeba always stressed her African pride through her hairstyles and traditional clothes and the Google doodle in her honour also shows her in traditional attire.

Miriam Makeba: Google doodles Mama Africa's 81st birthday

Miriam Makeba was one of Africa's best known voices and a champion of the fight against apartheid.

She came from humble beginnings in a shantytown near Johannesburg. The former domestic servant first started to sing in her school choir and learned new songs by listening to recordings of American jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald.

Mixing jazz with traditional African sounds, Makeba punctuated some songs with the clicks of her Xhosa language, creating classics such as 'The Click Song' and 'Pata Pata'.

Makeba won attention on the international stage as lead singer for the South African band The Manhattan Brothers. In New York, she worked with Harry Belafonte.

Makeba's career trajectory was as phenomenal as her personal life was full of tragedy. Her big break came in 1959, after independent American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin included her in his anti-apartheid documentary 'Come Back, Africa', which prompted the South African government to revoke her citizenship in 1960, while she was touring abroad.

She would live as an exile for 27 years, first in the States then Guinea and Europe.

In the meantime, Harry Belafonte became her mentor and promoter and it was thanks to him that went from singing at New York's renowned Village Vanguard club to performing at JFK's birthday (not mentioned in the film) in under two years.

While she won over millions on the stage, Makeba's personal life was marred by tragedy. Makeba had said her first husband often beat her, and she left him after finding him in bed with her sister. Her talented daughter Bongi, died at the age of 35 after writing some of her mother's best-known music.

In 1968, her marriage to black rights activist Stokely Carmichael led to the immediate cancellation of her record deals and tours in the US, her home at the time, and prompted the couple to move to Guinea. The couple later split. She was divorced four times.

She was the first black woman to speak at the United Nations, in 1963, and gained her nickname 'Mama Africa' for the way she brought together the African continent and the attention she brought it from the rest of the world.

(With inputs from agencies)

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