Oh, yes, on the heels of the rise of one great African (Obama), another bids adieu. Miriam Makeba, mother of a nation, leaves us with only her music to sing us to the finish line. Hers was the gentle voice that could raise a storm, the sweetest tone to make your cry, and no matter the dark ways she walked through, her smiles always brought light to night.
I met Miriam Makeba before I knew my name. Indeed she is one of my earlierst memories. The place was Conakry, Guinea, and the year sometime in the late 70’s. I was a little boys, one in a large family who like many others in that city, would gather around those evenings when electricity came our way to watch black-and-white images on our small teevee. I remember, every evening between Bembeya Jazz National and one of Sekou Touré’s lectures, this woman would come our hissing into the camera….and without a beat, I would go running between my mother’s legs. I was terrified of her. With those piercing eyes, making those strange sounds (I now understand to me music from the soul), she was a force too much for my little brown eyes. So I ran, hid, and called her the witch lady.
She was that. For she would bewitch you with her voice and put a spell on you. She put it on many the world over. She was undoubtedly putting it on those Italians when the angel came to take her home. Now our home has an empty spot that can’t be filled. Our heart has missed a beat, and we are cold all over. So we hold on to her music and hope it keeps us warm.
It would be some ten years before I met her again, some 10,000 miles away in a city by the lake. I was in Chicago, in my uncle’s living room watching the Cosby Show, when all of a sudden, this lady of my childhood years walks in the Cosby house and re-introduce herself to me. “That’s her!” I remember screaming to my cousin, who probably thought that very moment his cousin was losing it.
Yea, that was her; the smile, the voice, the eyes, the grace, the beauty…after all this years, her presence was just as strong. In color she looked like my mother, who was then some 10,000 miles away from me. This time I didn’t run away. Maybe because there were no legs for me to run to, I ran into her arms, and she took me in. We put the spell on the Cosby kids!
Miriam Makeba was more that a musician. She was hope to the hopeless, an ambassador of peace with a gun by her side. She was voice for the voiceless, a shoulder wherever tears streamed down a face, one of the strongest treads between we the now generation and many who died for the cause. She was my mother, our mother, a great daughter of Africa. She will sorely be missed.