Passport number 1
According to Dr. Vincenza Di Saia, a physician at the private clinic Pineta Grande near Naples, Italy, Miriam Makeba collapsed as she was leaving a stage where she had been performing in a benefit concert. The concert was held for Roberto SavianoRoberto Saviano was 27 when he dropped his debut, Gomorrah, an expose on the mafia in Naples. In an opinion published in The Guardian, he details life under armed guard. “Not long after the book came out in 2006, someone left a leaflet in my mother’s postbox,” he details. “I was living in Naples, but she was still in Caserta. It showed a photograph of me, with a pistol to my head, and the word “Condemned”., a writer who had been on the receiving end of numerous death threats at the time after writing about organised crime.
The details are unclear.
She collapsed in the wings after stumbling off-stage mid-song.
She collapsed on stage after singing Pata-Pata, her hand clutching her heart clutching home.
She was still alive in the ambulance. She was still alive in the hospital.
Time of death is listed as midnight.
Cause of death; cardiac arrest.
Passport number 2
In a 1988 interview with Roger Steffens when asked about her calling, the interlocutor (perhaps in playful facetiousness) asks whether she can see into the future.
Miriam Makeba: “I try to see the future. I may be wrong but I try. And for me, the future is, it has to be, that I will return home. My people will be free and we shall live like human beings, like all other people in the world. Because If I ever stop thinking that way, or looking into the future that way, then it would be very detrimental to me. I may just lay down and die.”
In another interview: “I will probably die singing”.
Passport number 3
You’ve heard this one many times before. Zenzile Miriam Makeba, born on the 4th of March 1932 to Christina and Caswell Makeba. A mere 18 days after the birth of her daughter, Miriam, Christina is arrested for illegally selling umqhombothiThe Prohibition Act of 1897 made it illegal for black people to drink alcohol, fearing it would it affect the productivity of the black labour force. This led to the establishment of underground shebeens and drinking places, that continued to thrive after the 1927 Liquor Act that prevented Black and Indian people from selling alcohol, or working in establishments that sell alcohol (without express permission). In the 1930s, the apartheid government introduced “drinking cages” into the townships, which were exactly what their name suggests. In order to increase the profitability of these cages and maintain control over black lives, the Liquor Act of 1927 was enforced more aggressively. In 1957, statutory liquor offences accounted for a sixth of all Black convictions. and is sentenced to six months imprisonment. Christina waits out the entirety of the term with her newborn daughter.
At the age of 17, Miriam marries into an abusive, violent union that will give her, her only child, daughter Sibongile Angela Makeba. Conceived the first time Miriam lays with her husband, Miriam is in labour for a full week before baby Bongi appears. James Kubay, her husband will beat her and when she catches him in bed with her sister, she leaves, never to see him again.
Also at 17, some bumpy uneven lumps are found in her mammary tissue. She’s diagnosed with breast cancer. She opts for treatment from her mother, a Sangoma.
James Hall authored the as-told-to autobiography of Miriam Makeba, Miriam Makeba: My Story. In a book that is published years later, he recounts a conversation that happened between the two of them sometime in 1986, when he lived with her for two months in Conarky, Guinea. “We sat in the rock garden of her small house as I conducted interviews for her as-told-to autobiography, which I was to write… Miriam’s face, capable of such emotion when she sang, became inscrutable and her large brown eyes focused far away. “My mother was special. She could see.”
Something mysterious had come over Miriam, and I proceeded carefully.
“She was what we call a sangoma. She had powers. People came to her with problems, and she told them what they were. Then she cured them… She trained to be a healer in Swaziland [eSwatini]. She had no choice but to become a sangoma. The lidlotis – the spirits – wanted her.”In the same interview, she says to Hall, “You know, I was not going to tell you about my mother. White people have made criminals of our healers .”
These spirits will guide Christina’s hands over her child’s breasts. Kneeding, rubbing, praying. Curing.
1969. Miriam leads in the hit musical theatrical production King KongRead King Kong- Our Knot of Time and Music: A personal memoir of South Africa’s legendary musical..
In the same year, she does a bit part in the anti-apartheid film, Mayibuye (Come Back Africa) directed by Lionel Rogosin. The following year, two of her relatives are murdered in the Sharpeville Massacre. Her mother will also die that year, and while trying to return home for the funeral, Miriam will learn that her passport has been cancelledBy revoking her passport, the apartheid government rendered Miriam Makeba stateless. A citizen of nowhere, her movements were effectively limited, and granted though special permissions and the honorary passports she acquired through the years. effectively banning her from her home country. Displacing her, for the second of many times in her life. This is also the year that a nine-year-old Bongi Makeba moves to the States to join her mother.
Passport number 4
Here there are two canvasses. The one is a drum. Hollow. Percussive. A drum is nothing without an instrument to strike it. To beat sound into it. To batter it into aliveness. Dathini Mzayiya provokes the canvass to awakefulness.
There are fine, fine patches where you can’t see the paint, or the spray, or the brush and then vicious lines chopping through the even, just slashing and slashing and panga and machete into the black, and then another black and then a black another.
On a screen strewn together from the printed dailies, Miriam speaks, her face as now, as it is then. Current affairs because the newsprint that stains her face tells us so. Current because the context doesn’t change. Because those in power. Because black souls never rest in peace, only pieces.
“There is really no difference in the struggle of the people you have mentioned because we are all Africans. We were just put in different countries by white people who took people from Africa and spread them out. It is true that our problems are the same.”
It is a face. It is always a face. Slash slash slash for eyebrows. Slash on the left and slash on the right. A curved line made of many tangents. Of explosions. Straight here forming an angle, the line swelled full of itself, distended, and where it should have burst; stopped, slid sanguine back down.
The lines again. Hacking and hewing and a brush has been used here. Hewing and chopping to say, this is the face of a man who has a difficult life. Look how it has dug into his face. Chisel and hammer. Nail and hammer. Pestle and mortar and hammer.
Passport number 5
Westwind, blow ye gentle over the shores of yesterday
My sun is brown and over, here within my heart they lay, they lay.
Westwind with your wisdom, gather all the young for me.
Black cloud hanging over, nest your bosom strong and free.
So Westwind with your splendour, take my people by the hand.
Spread your glory sunshine and unify my promised land.
Unify us, don’t divide us.
Unify my promised landNina Simone – Westwind
Sibongile Angela Makeba was born to her mother when Miriam was about 17, 18 years old. At the age of 34, Bongi has a still birth. Ill treatment at the hospital, and close family ties with the embattled, outgoing president of Guinea, Ahmed Sékou Touré will drive Bongi out into the streets in a hospital gown, bleeding oceans, searching for the child she lost. She dies there. Miriam buries her, mostly alone. Herself. Her daughter. And a handful of journalists.
Roger Steffens: “Now your mother received two years of instruction in Swaziland (referring to intwasoinitiation rites and processes, through which a person is initiated into practising as isangoma ). You in effect, are a graduate of the instruction, just by the mere fact of your career and are often, as you have said, taken by the spirits in performance so that you are satisfying the needs of the spirits.”
Miriam: “I guess so, If I didn’t have that outlet, I’d probably have to go through what she [her mother] had to go through or have some kind of … misfortune.”
Roger: “Do you think your daughter was affected by the fact that she didn’t take instruction?”
Miriam: “I have been told so. She didn’t want to do that and she sang sometimes but she was doing it as a … just whenever she feels like performing. She sang very well. She wrote most of the songs I sing. She used to write beautiful things for me….”
Among the songs penned by Bongi Makeba are Westwind, A Luta Continua, Lumumba, Quit It and Do You Remember Malcolm?
Passport number 6
The mic’d up canvass. A make-shift border in black. In school we had projectors. We’d pull the screen and secure it in a place by wrapping a loose string attached to its handle around a hook or a nail. A sticker affixed to the screen cautioned when to stop pulling. It read “Pull until black appears on top”.
“Now saying that they are a minority, this really means nothing because the white man, wherever he is, whether he is in the majority or the minority, he rules. It just proves to everyone, that we just have to keep fighting. We just have to fight that much more. Because it doesn’t matter if he’s in the majority, or the minority, he’s always on top.”
Before it is a face it is white with a perimeter of black. Black on top, but also on the bottom. Black on both sides. Mzayiya runs his fingers over the body of the blank, the microphone picks up on the strokes, makes each graze a raze in the ground. Each molehill a mountain. This is what they mean when they say amplification. The process of making something more significant, more marked. More more.
More more more future is a choreographed piece by Congolese dancer and choreographer Faustin Linyekula and Studio Kabako located in Kinsangani. Writer Stacy Hardy describes this work as “somewhere between a scream and alullaby”. Linyekula, in his corporeal poetry searches for, in his own words, “other ways of breathing”.
“In the Congo, we like to lose ourselves in music. In the ndombolo, this bastard music, strong of traditional rhythms, come from both rumba and pop that funk. A big sound that makes the Congolese dance and numbs them, putting on the poverty glitter, of which nothing remains in the morning. Today in my country,” says Linyekula, “we need to dream. Music was one of those spaces. But today I look at Werrason, Fally Ipupa, Koffi Olomide, Mpiana – all the big shots. They think that the answer is to show off. To say, ‘I am the richest around’ – to sell that dream… Musicians become beggars, glittery beggars but beggars. Then you realise how tragic our situation is. When you see the moral, intellectual, material misery of the people who should make us dream, then you understand how much shit we are really in. Then you ask yourself what can be the future… ”
Makeba’s future, the one she dared herself to envision saw her coming home. Saw her people free. Her idea of personal freedom was inextricably linked to the liberation, of not just the Black people of South Africa, but Black people the world over. Into her songs she imbued not just a future, but a challenge to the future to be more.
“It will depend on them. We are just worried about ourselves. It is our country. They came from Europe to invade our country. They took it. They have made us suffer. So we don’t have to worry thinking about what will we do to them. What will happen to them. It will be up to them to see fit what they can do when we have won. Just like they see what to do fit right now while they are on top.”
Passport number 7
It is Christina Makeba, Miriam’s mother who beat her into life, when life tried to beat itself out of her. It was Christina who crushed herbs for her daughter to drink and drown – to emerge from these fragrant waters on the other side. In The Emperor of All MaladiesThe Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, written by New York-based oncologist Siddharta Mukherjee is a searing study of the disease, that unlike the people it infects, is immortal., Siddharta Mukerjee writes, “If we seek immortality, then so, too, in a rather perverse sense, does the cancer cell.”
When Miriam’s policeman-husband tried to shatter into her face his will and dominance, it is Christina who told her to move to Johannesburg. It is Christina who takes possession of Miriam’s body on the stage, sings with her voice till she trance-like escorts us all into a world that tastes like freedom.
“The strength, I get it from my people. I get it from my mother. My ancestors. Because to us, even those who have died are still with us. They live among us. We talk to them. When I am in deep trouble I kneel down, I say to my mother and my father and my grandmother “you’ve gone to the other side. Wherever you are, ask the superior being to help me, and help me to be strong”. And that’s what I do all the time, I think get my strength from that.”
Was she there when her daughter gasped in pain throughout the dying notes of Pata Pata. Did she walk her into the wings, rubbing her brow as the ambulance cried in mourning through the rough-hewn, cobbled streets in Italy?
Did she tell her “It is ok my child. This death is not one you have to fight. We will fight from the other side”.
Passport number 8
I have become intimately involved with violence. She has decided to be my constant companion. Often I find myself crying “why me?”. Always I hear myself responding “but then who?”
The political is deeply personal. Today like yesterday, I fight for my life. I take my medicine in the form of words and herbs.
From water I learn to soak in herbs and wash away grey things. From water I learn that sometimes I might be required to live there, in the underneath.
In the library of the UCKARUniversity Currently Known As Rhodes I find in a book on a shelf on the 3rd floor. It’s a little bruised, a little tattered, pages dog-eared and ink running thin. It’s an anthology by one Jerome Rothenberg, titled the Technicians of the Sacred. A collection of texts that dances at the intersections of engineering, language and spirituality.
From the writer Daniel Borzutsky I learn that there is no technology outside of ourselves to interpret the screams of others. To interpret the screams of others I become not the other, but the scream . He says “to be alive is a spiritual mission in which you must get from life to death without killing yourself.” I share this joke with my supervisor but she doesn’t find it funny. He says “You can die from so many stories.”
I am always dying.
Selah Saterstrum is a writer and hoodoo card reader. One day we’re sitting on a bed with white sheeting, when she says to me I have wounds that are not my own. I am dying from so many stories.
A friend texts me and asks If I’ve ever heard of Umkhokha?
“What I mean is, has anyone in your family ever had the experience of being robbed, of being killed in a robbery?”
There is uncle. Stabbed footsteps from his house, the unintelligible story writ in blood from the gatepost to the street. A 30cm incision from below his third rib bone pouring down. The men in my family have strange ways of dying and the setting rarely ever changes. Always almost home but never quite . Always a shebeen a stumble away. In the street, alone, no-one to catch the final wheezing, to give that breath a direction, a way home.
There is uncle. There is me. There are others.
He explains that umkhokha is like a recurring family incident. A trauma that plays itself in sets and loops, travelling by genome and bloodstream. “You have to do a ceremony yokuvala umkhokha, you have to close the loop.”
Passport number 9
Now without a mother, the mother of a daughter she committed to soil and ash, we scream at her from stadiums and headlines, “Mama Africa”.
She explains; “I often wonder why they call me that. It was, I think, in Guinea. Some Swiss people came to do a profile. No. In Europe they have, in the French-speaking countries, they have every year, they have a French television show from either Switzerland, France, Montreal… all the French-speaking countries in Europe… They choose one French-speaking country in Africa to do a film, on something. And they take those films to a competition. And this particular year, the Swiss-Roman Television came to Guinea and they chose me as the subject, to do a film on how I live in Guinea. And when they asked people and children what they thought of me, the people said that I am/was Mama Africa. When that film was shown all over French-speaking Africa, it was called Mama Africa.”
The Madonna-Whore Complex is one of few theories forwarded by Sigmund Freud that hasn’t been dismissed as to its (concerning, with reference to) blatant misogynoir. Which is not to say that it isn’t patriarchal, but that the ways in which society reinforces this prejudicial patriarchal concept remains unchanged and largely unchallenged outside of feminist circles. This concept describes a system of hostile compartmentalisation which dichotomises womanhood. The woman is either the saintly feminine archetype (Madonna) or the perceived opposite, lustful, depraved and un-nurturing (whore).
By bestowing her this title, did we leave Miriam sexless? the curves of her chest places for us to suckle, homes for cancer, robbed of any sensuality?
|1.||↑||Roberto Saviano was 27 when he dropped his debut, Gomorrah, an expose on the mafia in Naples. In an opinion published in The Guardian, he details life under armed guard. “Not long after the book came out in 2006, someone left a leaflet in my mother’s postbox,” he details. “I was living in Naples, but she was still in Caserta. It showed a photograph of me, with a pistol to my head, and the word “Condemned”.|
|2.||↑||The Prohibition Act of 1897 made it illegal for black people to drink alcohol, fearing it would it affect the productivity of the black labour force. This led to the establishment of underground shebeens and drinking places, that continued to thrive after the 1927 Liquor Act that prevented Black and Indian people from selling alcohol, or working in establishments that sell alcohol (without express permission). In the 1930s, the apartheid government introduced “drinking cages” into the townships, which were exactly what their name suggests. In order to increase the profitability of these cages and maintain control over black lives, the Liquor Act of 1927 was enforced more aggressively. In 1957, statutory liquor offences accounted for a sixth of all Black convictions.|
|3.||↑||In the same interview, she says to Hall, “You know, I was not going to tell you about my mother. White people have made criminals of our healers .”|
|4.||↑||Read King Kong- Our Knot of Time and Music: A personal memoir of South Africa’s legendary musical.|
|5.||↑||By revoking her passport, the apartheid government rendered Miriam Makeba stateless. A citizen of nowhere, her movements were effectively limited, and granted though special permissions and the honorary passports she acquired through the years.|
|6.||↑||Nina Simone – Westwind|
|7.||↑||initiation rites and processes, through which a person is initiated into practising as isangoma|
|8.||↑||The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, written by New York-based oncologist Siddharta Mukherjee is a searing study of the disease, that unlike the people it infects, is immortal.|
|9.||↑||University Currently Known As Rhodes|