Legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba, who was banned from her own country for more than 30 years under apartheid, died after collapsing on stage during a concert in Italy last night (Sunday Nov 9th) according to a report from AP. She was rushed to the Pineta Grande clinic in Castel Volturno, near the southern city of Naples, where she died of a heart attack earlier this morning (Monday 11/10). She was 73 years of age.
Reportedly the singer had just finished performing "Pata Pata," one of her best known hits (once famously banned in her homeland), when she collapsed. Known as "Mama Africa," Makeba's sudden death has sent shockwaves through South Africa, which is in mourning today. "One of the greatest songstresses of our time has ceased to sing," said the country's Foreign Affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma in a statement today. "Throughout her life, Mama Makeba communicated a positive message to the world about the struggle of the people of South Africa and the certainty of victory over the dark forces of apartheid and colonialism through the art of song."
Over her long, prolific career she had performed with such artists as Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, and Paul Simon. She was the first African woman to win a Grammy award in 1966 together with Harry Belafonte for the album An Evening With Belafonte/Makeba, which dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid. Her rise to international awareness began when she starred in the 1959 anti-apartheid documentary Come Back, Africa. A year later when she tried to fly home for her mother's funeral, she discovered her passport had been revoked. It would be thirty years before she was allowed to return again to her homeland.
In 1963, Makeba appeared before the U.N. Special Committee on Apartheid to call for an international boycott of South Africa. The South African government responded by banning her records, including hits like "Pata Pata." In an interview earlier this year with the UK Guardian paper she insisted, "I'm not a political singer...I don't know what the word means. People think I consciously decided to tell the world what was happening in South Africa. No! I was singing about my life, and in South Africa we always sang about what was happening to us — especially the things that hurt us."