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The Greeks referred to Africa as ‘Ethiopia’, meaning the land of the ‘burnt-face’ people. Hence all dark-skinned people were called ‘Ethiopians’.
The Romans organised their conquered territories around the Mediterranean Sea (N. Africa in today’s terms) into a province, which they called ‘Africa’. This comes from the word ‘afri’ which means “a group of people of whom little is known”.

Source: Dr. John Henrik Clarke, “African People in World History” born 1915, died 17th July 1998

This is the story of a remarkable African woman who left her mark on history in the 16th century.
Northern Nigeria is the home of the Hausa people. Their origin in the area dates back to the 10th century or so. Most Hausa believe they originated partially from a Baghdad prince who left his father’s palace after a row. He ended in northern Nigeria at Daura, near present-day Kano.
At Daura he succeeded in killing a snake which had been terrorising women trying to fetch water from a well because the snake lived in the well. As his reward, the king gave him his daughter in marriage.
The marriage produced a son called Bawo. Bawo himself had six sons who founded city-states each. One of these states was called Zazzau.
The 22nd ruler of Zazzau was called Bakwa Turunku (believed to be a queen). She had two daughters: Aminatu (the elder) and Zaria. Bakwa built a new capital of Zazzau and named it Zaria, after her younger princess. Zaria eventually became the name of the state.
Amina was just 16 when she was given the traditional title magajiya (heir apparent). It was Amina that inherited her mother’s warlike character. It was believed she succeeded her mother and reigned from about 1536 for nearly 34 years. In this period she waged war on and conquered many states. Her many conquests and subsequent annexation of territory extended the borders of Zaria as far as Bauchi and the river Niger in the south and Katsina in the north. At her apogee Zaria became the centre of the North-South Saharan trade and the East-West Sudan trade. This brought her great power and wealth.
Love Life? It’s scary.
Because she was busy waging war she had no time for a full-time husband. She never married and neither did she have offspring. Nevertheless she enjoyed a “healthy sex life”. Wherever she went and conquered, she took a ‘temporary husband’ but had him killed the following morning so that he did not live to tell of his experiences with the queen.
Amina walled the military camps that she established. Cities then developed within these walls. These walls became known as ganuwar Amina or Amina’s walls; some of these are still standing.

Parentage and Bands in her Early Years in Africa
Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg, South Africa on March 4 1932. Her mother was a Sangoma, which is a mystical traditional healer, of the Xhosa tribe. At the mere age of 18 days, Miriam began serving a six-month prison term with her mother who was imprisoned for illegally selling traditional Swazi homemade beer as a result of economic necessity.
As a teenager, Miriam assisted her mother with the domestic work she did for white families. She also pursued singing and in 1950 joined an amateur Johannesburg group called the Cuban Brothers. At the age of 21 Miriam caught the attention of the successful 11-piece band, The Manhattan Brothers and began her musical career by recording her debut single, “Lakutshona Llange”.
Miriam then joined the female vocal group, The Skylarks in 1958 singing a mix of jazz and traditional folk music. She reunited with members of the Manhattan Brothers in 1959 when she accepted the lead female role in the musical ‘King Kong’.

Meeting with Harry Belafonte: London
With her appearance in the semi-documentary, anti-apartheid film ‘Come Back, Africa’, Miriam, already a major star in Southern Africa, got the attention of international audiences. As a result, she attended the premiere of this film at the 1959 Venice Film Festival in Italy. After the festival Miriam travelled to London where she was toasted by celebrities and other singers such as Cleo Laine. She also met African-American performer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, who had requested a private screening of the film. Struck by Miriam’s mixture of traditional African rhythms and popular musical forms, Belafonte described her as “the most revolutionary new talent to appear in any medium in the last decade.”

Years in America
From London, Miriam travelled to New York City. Through Belafonte, who became her sponsor and promoter in the USA, she appeared on the popular US TV show of the time, The Steve Allen Show, which led to performances in nightclubs around New York City such as the performance at the Village Vangard where members of the audience included Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Sidney Poitier. After this performance, Time Magazine called Miriam “the most exciting new singing talent to appear in many years.”
Miriam later made a guest appearance during Harry Belafonte’s concert at the Carnegie Hall. This event was recorded into the double-album “An Evening with Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba” and received a Grammy Award making Miriam the first African person to win a Grammy.

Events Leading to Exile
Miriam’s success as a vocalist was also balanced by her outspoken views about apartheid. Her criticism of the system led to the South African government revoking her passport when she attempted to return for her mother’s funeral in 1960. For the next 30 years, Miriam would be a ‘citizen of the world’. Nevertheless, she continued to press the issue of apartheid.
In 1963 Miriam spoke at the United Nations before the Decolonisation Committee pleading for the release of women political prisoners in South Africa. Then in 1964 she addressed the UN again before the Committee on Apartheid, describing South Africa as “a nightmare of police brutality and government terrorism” and demanding an international boycott of her homeland. In response, the South African government banned Makeba’s music.

Years in America: Stokely Carmichael
In 1962, Miriam was one of America’s top stars and was invited to perform a number of songs at President J.F. Kennedy’s famous birthday party in Madison Square Garden (also on the bill that night was Marilyn Monroe who famously sang “Happy Birthday”). By 1967, Miriam had a top-selling single in the US charts with the infectious dance tune, “Pata Pata” which later became a world-wide hit that was re-recorded by various international artists. Other songs including “Malaika,” and “The Click Song” were also popular in the United States.
In 1968, Makeba married controversial black activist Stokely Carmichael which halted her career in the US. Carmichael was involved with the Black Panther Party, had popularised the phrase ‘Black Power’, and was considered by many in mainstream society to be a revolutionary. The US entertainment industry virtually blacklisted Miriam. Her gigs were cancelled, her recording contract with major label RCA was dropped and her career in the United States soured. She and her husband relocated to the newly independent West African nation of Guinea at the invitation of President Sekou Toure, where she agreed to serve as Guinea’s delegate to the United Nations.

Makeba at the UN
Miriam never considered herself to be a politician but she was an activist for human rights. World leaders such as Fidel Castro, the Pope and the late Francois Mitterand were always glad to receive her. In 1975 and 1976 Miriam addressed the United Nation’s General Assembly once again on the horrors of apartheid. Her fearless humanitarianism earned her numerous awards including the 1986 Dag Hammerskjold Peace Prize and the UNESCO Grand Prix du Conseil International de la Musique in 1993.

Years in Guinea
Guinea was Miriam’s home for 9 years where she continued recording music on the Syllart label. During the 1970’s and 1980’s she toured Europe, South America and Africa, becoming a fixture on the jazz festival circuit. In 1987 and 1988 she joined Paul Simon and South Africa’s Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Hugh Masekela during their world-wide Graceland tour. Two years later she joined Odetta and Nina Simone for the One Nation Tour.

Return Home
Following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, Miriam returned to South Africa in December 1990. She performed her first concert in her homeland in 30 years in April 1991. She also released an album titled ‘Eyes on Tomorrow’ featuring Dizzy Gillespie.
In 1992 Miriam appeared in the award winning musical ‘Sarafina’ in the role of Sarafina’s mother. She joined her former husband Hugh Masekela (they were married from 1964-1966) for the Tour of Hope concert in 1994. In 1995 she even featured in Vogue Magazine highlighted by a photo session with herself, the model Iman and David Bowie.
Miriam continues to be in demand around the world, and in 1997 she was a special guest at the Harry Belafonte Tribute in New York City. She still records music and in 2000 she returned to America to record the album ‘Homeland’ on Putumayo Records.

Miriam Makeba is African music’s first and foremost world star. She is a pioneer who played her early songs and blended different styles long before the term ‘World Music’ was used. She has recorded over 30 albums that are spread across recording companies all over the world. Miriam continues to touch the lives of millions and remains active in world issues through her work with human rights, women’s rights and anti-drug campaigns. Her exceptional personal and artistic profile all add to the dramatic elements of an extraordinary life that make Miriam Makeba a living legend.
Miriam’s autobiography ‘Miriam: My Story’ was published by Bloomsbury in 1998. It has been translated and published in German, French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Japanese.