Miriam Makeba….PRESENTE!!!

Today is Miriam Makeba’s birthday. She would have been 79 years old. She passed away two years ago on November 10, 2008 after performing a benefit concert on November 9th in support of Italian writer, Roberto Saviano, who wrote the book Gomorra, a book that exposes the Camorra clandestine business operations and their connections to the Neopolitan Mafia. Miriam Makeba was in Italy and after performing Pata Pata, she had a heart attack and was taken to the hospital where she passed away on the early morning hours of November 10th.

Miriam is famously known as Mama Africa and was the most well known female singer of Africa. She was one of South Africa’s precious jewels. Having been banned in South Africa, she shared with the world the beautiful folk music of South Africa. Her songs were protest songs against the apartheid system but also about justice and equality. In her songs she painted a picture for the world to see the conditions that black people were living in during the apartheid system. Through music, she was an ambassador of the struggle in South Africa. And thanks to Harry Belafonte, she was the first African woman to win a grammy in 1966 for Best Folk Recording for their album, An evening with Belafonte/Makeba, which for many Americans became their introduction to the conditions that Black South Africans were living in under the apartheid system.

Mama Africa to me is the Violeta Parra of South Africa. Both of these amazing women strengthened the folk song movement. Both used music as a weapon and both sang songs about the injustices going on, whether it was in Chile or South Africa; two countries that I have been blessed to live in  and carry a special place in my heart.

Below are some of my favorite songs from Mama Africa.

Nantsi ndodemnyama,

(Here are the Black People,)
Verwoerd pasopa,
(Beware, Verwoerd!)

The song is in reference to Hendrik Verwoerd, who was the Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 until his assassination in 1966. Verwoerd is considered the “architect of apartheid”, as he was the one that passed laws that stripped Black South Africans from their civil rights. He was the racist that passed laws that Blacks couldn’t attend the same schools as White people, couldn’t ride on the same buses and could not live in the same area. Under his government in the 50’s, several events shaped up the apartheid system, which included the Sharpeville Massacre, the Treason Trial and the banning of the African National Congress.
This last song is called Nongqongqo. It is the name of a prison in South Africa. 
Here are the lyrics to the song. Thanks to my friend Akhona for the translation.
Bahleli bonke etilongweni, (they are together/they are sitting together in prison) 
Bahleli bonke kwa Nongqongqo  (they are sitting together at Nongqongqo)


Hi, hi, hi, ( ‘hi’, which in English would be pronounced or sounds like hee, is just a sound to mimick the idea of crying or pain. It’s like onomatopeia)

halala (‘halala’ is an exclamation of, usually, joy. I think in this context it’s just to exclaim the cry) 

Nanku X 2 (here he is)

Nanku uSobukhwe (here is Sobukwe)

Nanku, nanku etilongweni (here he is in prison)


hi bawo Luthuli (‘bawo’, in Xhosa, means father/sir, and the equivalent in Zulu is ‘baba’; Luthuli was the president of the African National Congress and the 1960 Nobel Peace Prize)

hayi uzotheni, uzotheni (‘hayi’ means no; ‘uzotheni’ is a word I’m not familiar with, but it sounds ambiguous and may mean ‘why do you deserve this?’ or ‘what have you done wrong?’/ ‘what is your sin?’)


Nanko X2  (there he is)

Nanko uMandela (there is Mandela)

nanko, nanko etilongweni (there he is, there he is in prison)
Nanko X2  (there he is)

Nanko uSisulu (there is Sisulu)

nanko, nanko etilongweni (there he is, there he is in prison)
yini wema-Afrika? (‘yini’ means what is it; ma-Afrika means people of Africa; “what is it Africans?” is used as a rhetorical question implying ‘what’s wrong with us Africans?’)

hayi uzotheni? uzotheni? (no, what have you done wrong, what have you done wrong?)

Bahleli bonke etilongweni, (they are together/they are sitting together in prison) 
Bahleli bonke kwa Nongqongqo  (they are sitting together at Nongqongqo)

Miriam Makeba…PRESENTE!!!

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This entry was posted on March 4, 2011 at 7:05 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

2 Responses to “Miriam Makeba….PRESENTE!!!”

  1. Mauricio Mendonca Says:

    Dearest, thank you so very much for the vifdeos and the lyrics. Once I deamed of singing Qongqothwane with Mrs. Makeba. As a matter of fact, since I was 3 years old, when her song Pata Pata was a blockbuster in Brazil. I fell in love with that song and naively wished some day I would be able to sing it with her. Not possible anymore, though somehow I know everytime I sing it from the heart she is singing along. Thank you once again for the lyrics of Nongqongqo, which I also fell in love with.

  2. victorjara42 Says:

    Reblogged this on victorjara42's Blog and commented:

    Happy 85th birthday to Miriam Makeba!
    Long Live Mama Africa

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