Miriam Makeba: 81st birthday celebrated with a Google Doodle

4 Mar 2013

It would have been singer Miriam Makeba’s 81st birthday today, and Google has commemorated the day for the woman known as Mama Africa, who recorded and performed with the likes of Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon and fellow South African Hugh Masekela, and was exiled from her home country for 30 years.

Makeba is noted as the first African artist to popularise African music in the US and worldwide. She began performing in 1954, recording her most famous song Pata Pata in 1957. This was released in the US in 1967, following a Grammy win in 1966 for Best Folk Recording for her record with Harry Belafonte: An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba.

This album addressed the issue of apartheid in South Africa, something Makeba actively campaigned against. Her South African passport had been revoked in 1960 and in 1963 her government revoked her citizenship and her right to return to her homeland.

In 1990, when the official abolishment of apartheid came with the repeal of the last remaining laws of racial segregation, Makeba returned home for the first time in three decades.

Appropriately, today’s doodle on the Google homepage shows Makeba doing what she loved best. She kept performing right up to her death at age 76 in November 2008, when she suffered a heart attack after a concert in Italy. An activist to the very end, the gig was held in support of writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against a Neopolitan Mafia-like organisation called the Camorra.


Elaine Burke is the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. She was previously the editor of Silicon Republic.