Legendary composer, arranger, vocalist, and band leader Caiphus Semenya was born in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township. He was one of the many exiled artists in South Africa during the 1960s and served his tenure in the United States of America along with other exiled artists such as Miriam Makeba, Letta Mbulu (his wife), Jonas Gwangwa and Hugh Masekela. He has worked with and composed for a broad range of jazz and pop artists, including Lou Rawls, Nina Simone and Cannonball Adderley, his facility with both jazz and African forms serving him well.
He wrote and arranged the African music for the famed US television series Roots 1 and 2 (based on the equally famous Alex Hayley novel). It earned him an Emmy Award and a Gold Record of the series soundtrack, which was produced by Quincy Jones. Caiphus, in association with Quincy Jones, also wrote and arranged all the African music for the Steven Spielberg produced and directed film The Color Purple. They were both nominated for an Oscar for ‘Best Original Soundtrack’. Caiphus wrote the melody, African lyrics and vocal arrangements for the title track of Quincy Jones’s album Back On The Block. The title track won the Grammy for Best Rap Song of the Year in 1991 while the album won seven Grammys in total. After his return to South Africa in 1990, he composed scores for Molo Fish, Vicious Circle and Gaba Mootho, three series broadcast by the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation.
He continues to work in America, Europe and Africa in a variety of capacities, including with Letta Mbulu as Caiphus & Letta. He is an executive producer for Quincy Jones’ Qradio website, for which he also writes a regular column. The 1990's saw Semenya working both sides of the Atlantic, whilst he and his family relocated to Johannesburg. Celebrated performances included the Africa Night at Montreux Jazz Festival, a sold out series at Sun City, and numerous open air concerts - often together with his wife Letta Mbulu.Semenya released “Woman’s got a right to be” in 1995, and collaborated with Jonas Gwangwa to script the music for the launch of the African Union.In April 2004, together with Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Letta Mbulu and Sibongile Khumalo, he formed the Creative Collective, which co-ordinated the musical and artistic programme for South Africa's “Ten Years of Freedom” celebrations.
Letta Mbulu was born on August 23, 1942, in South Africa’s Soweto Township. Her musical career began in her teenage years when she toured with the musical “King Kong,” which ran for a year in England following a highly successful two-year run in South Africa. When the tour ended, she returned to South Africa but soon the policies of Apartheid were to force her to leave her native land for the U.S.A. Letta Mbulu also displayed an early gift for writing joyful, memorable songs. These were showcased by no less an authority than Miriam Makeba on the great singer's albums The Magnificent Miriam Makeba (the great "Akana Nkomo"), All About Miriam ("U Shaka," and the hit-worthy "Jol'inkomo") and the tremendous album Makeba ("U-Mngoma," "Magwala Ndini"). When she was in L.A., producer David Axelrod had her signed to Capitol Records - home at the time to both the Beatles and the Beach Boys.
This phenomenal artist has also toured with other international artists such as Harry Belafonte and has acted in Sidney Poitier’s film, A Warm December. In 1984, Letta Mbulu sang on Quincy Jones's soundtrack to The Color Purple. In 1987, she was heard (if ever too briefly) as the other woman on Michael Jackson's "Liberian Girl" from the album Bad. Later, Mbulu appeared in such musical plays as husband Caiphus Semenya's Buwa (which was a presentation of the group, South African Artists United (SAAU), of which Mbulu was a co-founder) and Mbongeni Ngema's Shiela’s Day. Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya finally returned to South Africa in 1991, after 26 years in exile.
The singer also finally returned to records in 1992 with the remarkable Not Yet Uhuru, her first album recorded on South African soil. It was arranged and produced by Mbulu's multi-talented husband, Caiphus Semenya, who also composed most of the material. Check out Letta challenging any contender on "Not Yet Uhuru," Semenya's brilliantly arranged "Home Brew" (showcasing Letta Mbulu rapping) and "Kushukiti." In 2001, Letta Mbulu was honored by the South African Music Awards for lifetime achievement.
Sipho Gumede was born in Cato Manor, Durban. He started playing guitar at a young age, getting his start and teaching himself how to play on a home-made guitar. The guitar was home made: a 5 gallon tin, wood and fish gut. He and his friends would play the tunes of Spokes Mashiyane, Zakes Nkosi and Lemmy "Special" Mabaso. At the age of 16 he met the jazz guitarist Cyril Magubane which became his introduction to jazz and its masters, like Wes Montgomery.
He learnt to play bass guitar, and soon got his first professional musical job as a member of the group the Jazz Revellers. In 1970 he left for Johannesburg, where the met more great musicians at Dorkay House in Eloff Street. He worked with Dennis Mpale and Cocky Tlhotlhalemaje and then Dick Khoza. Sipho went on his first tour of the country with Gibson Kente. He teamed up with Jabu Nkosi, Barney Rachabane, Duke Makasi, Dennis Mpale and Enoch Mtlelane to form Roots. When Roots ended Sipho joined Bheki Mseleku and formed Spirits Rejoice, a jazz-fusion band. Gumede also recorded with jazz legends such as the American Timmy Thomas, Kippie Moeketsi, Stimela, Margaret Singane, Abdullah Ibrahim, Winston Mankunku and Brenda Fassie.
In 1985 Sipho’s first solo album, Faces and Places, was released. The next year, together with South African greats Caiphus Semenya, Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbulu and Jonas Gwangwa, Sipho also produced a musical show called Buwa, which chronicled South African music in historical context. The show was seen in Zimbabwe and other African states, and finally closed in Sweden. Sipho also toured the Americas with Harry Belafonte and Letta Mbulu. In 1992 he won an OKTV award for the best African Fusion Album for his solo album Thank you for Listening. In 1995 he also received an achievement award from Johnny Walker Black Label for his ‘outstanding contribution to the South African Music Industry’.
In 1996 he released a retrospective album, 20 Years of My Life. Other albums since 1990 include Ubuntu (Humanity) and Blues for my Mother, on which he collaborated with artists like Paul Hanmer, Mandla Masuku and Xoli Nkosi. The album received gold status. In 1999 Sipho formed part of the backing band during American jazz pianist Joe McBride’s South African tour. McBride also appeared on Sipho’s next album, New Era, together with other world-renowned jazz artists like Andy Narell, Wayne DeLano and Manny Rodriquez. At the same time, Sipho played bass for The Sheer All Stars, a group also featuring Paul Hanmer, McCoy Mrubata, Errol Dyers and Frank Paco. Sipho also formed a very successful collaboration with Pops Mohamed called Kalamazoo. By 2000 Sipho had moved back to KwaZulu-Natal, where he taught music and performed for young people from the townships. Yet he did not stop artistic productivity. From his home recording studio, he produced a number of albums. His last offerings were From Me To You and the 2004 Sakhile release, Togetherness. In 2004, the album Blues for my Mother went platinum. In total, he produced, recorded and contributed to more than 20 albums. After brief hospitalisation Sipho died on 26 July 2004, reportedly of lung cancer.
Oliver Mtukudzi was born September 22, 1952, in Harare, Zimbabwe. Mtukudzi is a superstar in Zimbabwe (where he still resides) and a household name throughout Africa. This great musician is a revered songwriter, composer, vocalist and guitar player who is well-known for his graceful onstage dance moves. Oliver Mtukudzi first recorded in the 1970s with a band called Wagon Wheels, which featured his fellow Zimbabwean superstarThomas Mapfumo. Later, he started his own group, Black Spirits, with whom he still plays.
He has since released over 30 full-length albums and several compilations with Black Spirits. He must be one of the few people to have a beat named after him: 'tuku'! This came about purely from his fans and Tuku stresses that he was the last to know. The unique tuku beat comes from a blend of Zimbabwean mbira with the faster Zulu township mbaqanga. In his thrilling live performance at the Barbican, London in 2001, the audience went quite wild in their appreciation: they were up dancing right from the start. The same thing happened at the London Jazz Festival 2002 when Oliver and his band were at the Royal Festival Hall. Mtukudzi sings in Shona interspersed with a bit of English, and the lyrics often have special or hidden messages. One of Oliver's albums released in 2002 is entitled Vhunze Moto.
A track from it, 'Ndakuvara' won the 2002 Kora Award for Best African Arrangement. The other album, Shanda, is a multimedia tribute in film, DVD and CD formats which explores Tuku's achievements using live recordings and interviews. He has won numerous awards and has featured in many TV programmes and prestigious magazines, for example Time Africa's article entitled 'The People's Voice' together with his picture on the front cover. In the 2003 Kora Awards Tuku won not only the Best Male Artist: Southern Africa Award but also the Lifetime Achievement Award.
Born in Mali, West Africa on 25 August 1949, Salif Keita comes from a noble family, and is a descendant of Sunjata Keita, who founded the Mali Empire in 1240. Keita was the third of thirteen children born to Sina Keita and grew up, near Mali’s capital, Bamako. Born albino in a land of blistering sun and heat, with limited eyesight and poor despite his social standing, his mother had to hide him to avoid the attacks of the superstitious crowds who called for his death.
In addition to the problems of growing up as an albino, Keita found the opposition of his family to his interest in becoming a singer since the traditions of his ancestry excluded members of the nobility from becoming singers which led to him being disowned by his father. Keita’s decision to become a musician broke an important taboo as in Mali only the lower jeli class makes its living from music. At the age of 18, Salif Keita left Djoliba for Bamako, where he spent time as a street musician and playing in bars. The first group that he worked with was the Super Rail Band de Bamako, a state-sponsored ensemble that was based at a Bamako railway station hotel, and which has served as an important launching pad for the careers of numerous West African musicians, including kora player and singer Mory Kante, and guitarist Kante Manfila.
In 1973, Salif Keita left the Super Rail Band de Bamako, and with guitarist Kante Manfila he joined Les Ambassadeurs, which later became Les Ambassadeurs International. The new group developed the fusion between traditional music and western electric influences. 1977 saw Salif Keita being awarded the National Order of Guinea by Sekou Toure, the Guinean President. Restricted by the limited opportunities and political climate in Mali, the group moved south and set up base in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, where they performed and recorded successfully during the late 1970s. In 1984 Salif Keita moved to Paris, launching a career that saw him recording the classic Soro album in 1987, produced by Ibrahim Sylla.
A recording deal with Island Records followed, which resulted in the release of the album Ko yan in 1989. With help from Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter and a number of carefully picked musicians from Mali and France, Zawinul produced Amen, the album that made Salif the first African band leader to win a Grammy nomination. Salif Keita moved home to Mali in 2001, and has subsequently released three albums, including 2010's critically acclaimed La Difference, an album which explores the issues faced by people with albinism and other potential societal outcasts.
Angelique Kidjo was born on the 14th July 1960 in a village called Ouidah in Benin, West Africa. At the age of six while on tour with her mother, her mother encouraged her to get on stage and that is how her career as a singer began. Since the release of her self-produced debut solo album, Pretty, in 1988, Kidjo has been embraced by the international press.
The oppressive political environment of Benin led her to relocate to Paris in 1983. Angelique Kidjo's music is rooted in the music of Benin, both traditional and contemporary. It is her love for other genres of music that have led her to international fame, though, as her use of jazz and pop influences in her music have made her accessible to people from all over the globe. She sings in four languages and has worked with many of the world's finest musicians, including Joss Stone, Peter Gabriel and Ziggy Marley. Kidjo's albums have been strengthened by contributions from top-notch guest musicians and producers. Parakou, her first internationally distributed album, featured jazz keyboardist Jasper van't Hof, the leader of Pili Pili, a Holland-based Afro-jazz band with whom Kidjo had performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987. Logozo, recorded in Miami in 1991 and produced by Joe Galdo of Miami Sound Machine, featured Branford Marsalis on saxophone. Marsalis later performed on Kidjo's album Oremi. The album features Kidjo singing duets with Cassandra Wilson ("Never Know") and Kelly Price ("Open Your Eyes"). Kidjo's most ambitious album, Fifa (1996), featured more than 100 percussionists, flutists, cowbell and berimbau players, singers, and dancers from Benin and one track featuring Carlos Santana.
In July 2002, she was appointed UNICEF's Special Representative on behalf of children's education and the education to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS. Kidjo's songs have been featured on the soundtracks of such films as My Favorite Season, Street Fighter, and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls. As the new millennium got underway, Kidjo signed to Columbia and prepared for her major-label debut. Exploring musical elements of her native Benin to that of northeastern Brazil, Black Ivory Soul was released in 2002. Oyaya!, which featured a collaboration with Dave Matthews, was issued two years later. Kidjo then joined forces with Razor & Tie for the May 2007 release of Djin Djin. A second Razor & Tie album, Õÿö, followed in 2010 and featured guest spots from Roy Hargrove, John Legend, and Dianne Reeves.
Brenda Nokuzola Fassie was born in 1964 in Langa, a township near Cape Town. The daughter of a pianist, Brenda began singing to her mother's accompaniment at a very young age, and already at the age of five, she had tourists paying to hear her sing. She already had her first band at this stage, the Tiny Tots. Her first recording was made in 1983 with the hit single “Weekend Special”, which became the fastest-selling record at the time. "Weekend Special" sold over 200,000 copies and had an extended life in cover versions and remixes, including one by New York producer Van Gibbs in 1986 that spent eight weeks on Billboard magazine's Hot Black Singles chart. The song enjoyed great international popularity and international success, leading to Brenda and the Big Dudes touring to the United States, Britain, Europe, Australia and Brazil. Throughout the decade Brenda also established herself as a great solo pop star.
In the late 1980s she began working with producer Sello “Chicco” Twala, a partnership that proved to be one of the most successful in the South African music business. The album Too Late for Mama, which was born from this duo, achieved platinum status in 1989.
In 1996 she was the producer of her album Now is the Time, which featured two duets with Democratic Republic of Congo music legend, Papa Wemba. Rumours of her downfall as pop star were proven wrong with her releases over the next years, especially the 1998 album Memeza, for which she teamed up with Chicco once again. The album became the best-selling South African release of the year and earned her numerous South African Music Awards (SAMAs). In 1999 she received the Kora award for the best female artist. Her next album, Nomakanjani, reached triple platinum status within a few months of its release.
In 2001, Time magazine featured a three page special on Brenda, calling her “The Madonna of the Townships”. This is proof of her international popularity. During the last few years of her life she regularly toured the African continent as well as America. After Memeza, Fassie enjoyed a string of huge successes. Nomakanjani (1999), Amadlozi (2000), and Mina Nawe (2001) were all top sellers, and for four years in a row Fassie took home the South African Music Awards' prize for the Best-Selling Album of the Year. She also won the Kora Award for Best Female Artist twice. On 26 April 2004 Fassie was rushed to a Johannesburg hospital with cardiac arrest. Although doctors resuscitated her, she slipped into a coma. For two weeks, fans all over the country held prayer services and supported her, her friends and family. She passed away on 09 May 2004.
Yvonne Chaka Chaka (born Yvonne Machaka in 1965) was born in Dobsonville in Soweto. She became the first Black child to appear on South African television. In 1981 "Sugar Shack", a talent show, introduced her to the South African public. Yvonne Chaka Chaka is a South African singer who first hit the South African music charts as a teenager in 1984 with the explosive hit "I'm in Love with a DJ". The disco sounds - shaped by the producer Sello 'Chicco' Twala - built on the mbaqanga roots of urban South African music, but with a synthesized edge and English lyrics.
The style soon became known as 'bubblegum", and Yvonne Chaka Chaka (alongside Brenda Fassie) was to remain at its forefront for much of the 1980's. Her powerful alto vocals were beautifully showcased on her next hit - the 1988 album Umqombothi, with song of the same title. This partying celebration of African sorghum beer was certainly pop, but grooved closer to a mbaqanga bassline, with a singalong chorus which hooked not only South Africans, but much of Africa. Other songs like "I'm Burning Up", "I Cry for Freedom", "Sangoma","Motherland" immediately ensured Chaka Chaka's status as a star on South Africa's mbaqanga music scene. By the late 1980's Umqombothi and Yvonne Chaka Chaka were pan African flavours: she toured extensively in Africa, playing stadium concerts in Nigeria, Kenya and Zaire.
The song "Umqombothi" was featured in the opening scene of the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda. Aside from the South African exiles, she was South Africa's primary musical icon in Africa, a legacy she still enjoys today. During the 1990's, she continued to tour - and sell albums - in almost every sub-saharan country. She has performed for a multitude of African Heads-of-State, including historic occasions accompanying the emergence of the new South Africa. She is a patron of the "Giving and Sharing" project, a campaign of "indigenous giving and philanthropy", and is involved in a variety of fundraising and benefit causes, notably the Orlando Childrens'Home, and HIV work. She released the album "Yvonne and Friends" late in 2000, which featured guests artists including Tsepo Tshola, formerly of Sankomota.In 2002, she took on the role of radio and tv presenter and talk show host, consolidating her transformation from "Princess of Africa" to that of a leading businesswoman, entertainer and educator. Releasing hit after hit, Chaka Chaka's subsequent award winning albums include "Burning Up", "Sangoma", "Who’s The Boss", "Motherland", " Be Proud to be African", "Thank You Mr DJ", "Back on my Feet", "Rhythm of Life", "Who's got the Power", "Bombani ( Tiko Rahini), "Power of Afrika", "Yvonne and Friends" and "Kwenzenjani".
Lebo Mathosa (1977 - 23 October 2006) was a popular South African kwaito singer. Mathosa started her career with the popular South African band Boom Shaka in 1994 at the age of 15, after she caught the eye of music producer Don Laka at a club in Johannesburg. She was one of the few successful female kwaito artists in an industry dominated by males. She turned solo in 1999.
Her debut solo album Dream went gold within 4 weeks of its launch in 2000. At the 2001 South African Music Awards, Mathosa won Best Dance Album for Dream, Best Dance Single for her debut single Intro from the same album, and Best Female Vocalist. Her next album, Drama Queen released in 2004, again earned the SA Music Award for Best Dance Album. She topped the South African pop charts in 2004, and in 2006 she was nominated for a British MOBO award (Best African Act category). The album, her cover-girl status and her legendary stage performance also assured her the position of representing MTV base as a performing artist during their Africa-wide launch events. She performed all over the world, from Southern Africa to Malaysia to Trafalgar Square in London, one of her most significant performances being at Nelson Mandela's 85th birthday party. Her strong pro-feminist attitude combined with her often shocking onstage sexuality earned her the nickname "The New Madonna of the Townships".
She was well known for her dyed blond hair, her live shows and outrageous stage outfits, and was openly bisexual. She was frequently compared to the South African singer Brenda Fassie, who died in 2004. She won the Style Best Dressed Woman of the Year Award in 2001, and was nominated by FHM magazine as one of Africa's sexiest women. Lebo has shared the stage with international acts like Will Smith and Missy Elliot and also recorded a duet with US R&B Star Keith Sweat.
Tsakani "TK" Mhinga (1979 - 27 February 2006) was a SAMA award-winning South African R&B and kwaito artist who went by the stage name of TK. She was a princess of the VaTsonga tribe of the Limpopo Province, South Africa, as well as the niece of veteran South African singer Yvonne Chaka Chaka. Growing up in Soweto, Johannesburg. At age 12 she first sang in public, singing Over the Rainbow, at a talent competition. she launched her solo musical career without telling her family, with her debut album, TKO, in 2000.
This was followed by her second album, Tsakani, in 2001 which included the club hit Eject yo’ ass. In 2002, TK performed with international act Foxy Brown at the Gauteng R&B Hip Hop Festival and opened for Keith Sweat and Deborah Cox on their South African concerts. TK was also a participant in Celebrity Big Brother UK during this year. Her third and last album, Black Butterfly (2003) was considered her best. TK’s vocals on the title track (which was written and recorded in only one day) have been compared to that of Mariah Carey. It also includes a poignant rendition of Over the Rainbow, of which TK professed a certain fondness. In celebration of this album, TK’s record company suggested she have a butterfly tattooed onto her left arm. After having them phone her mother for permission first, she happily consented. She was to be one of the most successful artists in South Africa when she was found dead in Bryanston by hotel staff in 2006.
Fela Kuti was born on October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta, Nigeria, to parents who were political activists. Fela was a popular producer, arranger, musician, political radical, and outlaw. His parents, however, were less interested in his becoming a musician and more interested in his becoming a doctor, so they packed him off to London in 1958 for what they assumed would be a medical education; instead, Fela registered at Trinity College's school of music.
Tired of studying European composers, Fela formed his first band, Koola Lobitos, in 1961, and quickly became a fixture on the London club scene. He returned to Nigeria in 1963 and started another version of Koola Lobitos that was more influenced by the James Brown-style singing of Geraldo Pina from Sierra Leone. Combining this with elements of traditional high life and jazz, Fela dubbed this intensely rhythmic hybrid "Afro-beat," partly as critique of African performers whom he felt had turned their backs on their African musical roots in order to emulate current American pop music trends. He soon formed a group called Koola Lobitos, which was later renamed Africa 70. They played a kind of music which Fela named "Afrobeat", which was American jazz, pop and funk blended with West African highlife music and traditional Yoruba music.
Fela Kuti was a gifted multi-instrumentalist, playing, among other things, saxophone, keyboards, trumpet, drums and guitar. He was also a talented singer and a highly energetic live performer. His lengthy songs (most were over 10 minutes long) were backed up by a consistent groove of drums and bass, a style which heavily influenced the genre of hip-hop. Fela Kuti was a major activist for Pan-Africanism and anti-colonialism, and because of his socialist beliefs, had many run-ins with the authorities of several African countries. In 1969, Fela brought Koola Lobitos to Los Angeles to tour and record. They toured America for about eight months using Los Angeles as a home base.
It was while in L.A. that Fela hooked up with a friend, Sandra Isidore, who introduced him to the writings and politics of Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver (and by extension the Black Panthers), and other proponents of Black nationalism and Afrocentrism. His struggles made him an icon of the Black Power movement. After the Kalakuta tragedy, Fela briefly lived in exile in Ghana, returning to Nigeria in 1978. In 1979 he formed his own political party, MOP (Movement of the People), and at the start of the new decade renamed his band Egypt 80. From 1980-1983, Nigeria was under civilian rule, and it was a relatively peaceful period for Fela, who recorded and toured non-stop.
Military rule returned in 1983, and in 1984 Fela was sentenced to ten years in prison on charges of currency smuggling. With help from Amnesty International, he was freed in 1985. Fela Kuti attempted to run for Nigerian President several times, but was never allowed to. In 2009, a musical about Fela Kuti's life and music, titled FELA!, debuted on Broadway. Choreographed by the legendary Bill T. Jones, the show was a major hit among both critics and audiences, and ran for over a year on Broadway, garnering three Tony Awards and a host of nominations during its tenure.
Youssou N'Dour was born in Dakar, Senegal on October 1, 1959. He began playing and performing music in his early teens, and a few years later, found himself joining The Star Band, one of Senegal's most popular musical ensembles. Youssou N'Dour went on to form his own group, Etoile de Dakar, and his rise to international superstardom went on from there. Youssou N'Dour's first major album, Immigres, was recorded in 1983 and spoke to the issue of cultural identity for Senegalese people who had immigrated to other countries.
Somehow, this record got into the hands of rocker Peter Gabriel, and the timing was right: Gabriel's band Genesis had recently broken up, and he was embarking on a ground-breaking solo career and looking for exciting new collaborators. N'Dour fit the bill perfectly. Touring with Peter Gabriel allowed Youssou N'Dour to catch the ears of many other musicians from all genres of music, including Sting, and raised his profile in the international music community. His fame never made him forget his roots, though, and he continued to produce albums that were specifically catered to his fellow Senegalese citizens and emigres, alongside more groundbreaking records that fused Western rock and pop styles with his native mbalax.
Youssou N'Dour has won many awards over the years, and even scored a hit single in the United States with 1994's "Seven Seconds," a duet with Neneh Cherry. In 2005, he won a Grammy Award for his album Egypt, and Rolling Stone magazine named his 2007 album,Rokku Mi Rokka, as one of the Top 50 Albums of the Year.
Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 10 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a Grammy Award winning South African singer and civil rights activist who was born in Johannesburg. As a young girl of thirteen, she entered a talent show at a missionary school and walked off with the first prize. She was often invited to sing at weddings, and her popularity grew in leaps and bounds as more and more people became dazzled by her talent. In 1952 she was chosen to sing for The Manhattan Brothers and toured South Africa with them. As early as 1956, she wrote and released the song "Pata Pata". Miriam became an exile in 1960 when South Africa banned her from returning to her birth country - she was deemed to be too dangerous and revolutionary - this was after she had appeared in an anti-apartheid documentary, entitled "Come Back Africa", and this upset the then white apartheid government of South Africa. Miriam only returned to South Africa thirty years later. In the 1960s she was the first artist from Africa to popularize African music in the U.S. and around the world. "Pata Pata" was first recorded in 1957 and released in the U.S. in 1967. She recorded and toured with many popular artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, Nina Simone and her former husband Hugh Masekela.
She actively campaigned against the South African system of apartheid. Although always regarding herself as a singer and not as a politician, Miriam's fearless humanitarianism has earned her many International awards, including the 1986 Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize and the UNESCO Grand Prix du Conseil International de la Musique. She was received by such world leaders as Hailé Selassie, Fidel Castro, John F. Kennedy and François Mitterrand. After the end of apartheid she returned home.
The ban on her records was lifted in South Africa in 1988 and she returned to her homeland in December 1990. She died on 10 November 2008 after performing in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the Region of Campania.
Hugh Ramopolo Masekela was born on April 4, 1939, in Witbank, South Africa. He began singing and playing piano as a child. But at age 14, after seeing the film, YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN, where Kirk Douglas portrays American Jazz trumpeter, Bix Beiderbecke, he took up trumpet, given to the young Hugh by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the anti-apartheid chaplain at St. Peters Secondary School. Hugh went on to play in other dance bands led by the great Zakes Nkosi, Ntemi Piliso, Elijah Nkwanyana and Kippie Moeketsi.
By 1956, Hugh joined Alfred Herbert's African Jazz Revue. Following a Manhattan Brothers tour of the country in 1958, Masekela wound up in the orchestra for the KING KONG musical written by Todd Matshikiza. KING KONG set South Africa's first record – breaking blockbuster theatrical success, touring the country for a sold-out year with Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers' Nathan Mdledle in the lead. The musical later went to London's West-End for two years. At the end of 1959, Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim), Kippie, Jonas,Makhaya Ntshoko, Johnny Gertze and Hugh formed the Jazz Epistles, the first African jazz group to record an LP and perform to record-breaking audiences in Johannesburg and Cape Town through late 1959 to early 1960.
Following the March 21, 1960, Sharpeville Massacre - where 69 peacefully protesting Africans were mercilessly mowed down and the government banned gatherings of ten or more people - and the increased brutality of the Apartheid state, Hugh finally left the country. Hugh was helped by Trevor Huddleston and international friends like Yehudi Menuhin and John Dankworth, who got him admitted into London´s Guildhall School of music. It was during this time at Manhattan School of Music in New York that Hugh had the opportunity to meet Louis Armstrong, who a few years earlier had sent the Huddleston Jazz Band a trumpet after the chaplain told the trumpet king about the band he had helped start back in South Africa. By the beginning of the 1970´s he had attained international fame, selling out all of America´s festivals. Heeding the call of his African roots, he moved to Guinea, then Liberia and Ghana after recording the historical "Home is where Music is" with Dudu Pukwana.
After a tour and two duet albums with Herb Alpert, Masekela and Miriam Makeba played a Christmas Day concert in Lesotho in 1980 where 75 000 people attended (they had been away from the region for 20 years). In 1981, Masekela moved to Botswana where he started the "Botswana International School of Music" with Dr. Khabi Mngoma. His record label, "Jive Records", helped him to set up a mobile studio in Gaborone from which came the hit single "Don´t Go Lose It Baby". In 1985, he unexpectedly had to leave for England after the South African Defence Force killed his friend George Phahle, his wife Lindi Phahle and 14 other people suspected of being terrorists.
While in England, Masekela recorded one of his greatest works, "Tomorrow", which featured his next hit, "Bring Him Back Home" (a.k.a. Mandela). While there, Masekela also conceived, with playwright and songwriter Mbongeni Ngema, the mbaqaga musical "Sarafina", which found great success on Broadway in 1988. After touring with Paul Simon's "Graceland" - which included a number of prominent African musicians including Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba - Masekela finally was able to return home, following the release of Nelson Mandela in 1990. In 1991, Masekela launched his first tour of South Africa, called "Sekunjalo - This Is It!" with the bands Sankomota and Bayete. The extravagant four-month tour sold out throughout the country's major cities. Now, happily living in his South African home, Masekela continues to maintain a very active tour schedule, spreading his musical message of peace, harmony and unity throughout the world.