MAMA AFRICA ON THE BIG SCREEN

CityPress - - Front Page - GRETHE KEMP grethe.kemp@city­press.co.za

The late iconic South African singer and ac­tivist Miriam Makeba is fi­nally get­ting recog­ni­tion in the form of her own fea­ture-length film.

Al­though the Grammy Award-win­ning artist has been in count­less doc­u­men­taries be­fore, and was the sub­ject of 2011’s Mama Africa by award­win­ning di­rec­tor Mika Kau­ris­mäki, this will be the first time her life story will be fic­tion­alised in a fea­ture film.

The as-yet-un­ti­tled film will be made by US pro­duc­tion house De Passe Jones En­ter­tain­ment. The com­pany is co-owned by Suzanne de Passe, who wrote the Billie Hol­i­day movie Lady Sings the Blues, and busi­ness part­ner Madi­son Jones. The duo is also cur­rently work­ing with Steven Spiel­berg on a film on Martin Luther King’s life.

Al­though there are no South Africans listed on the pro­duc­tion yet, ac­cord­ing to on­line re­porter Dead­line, De Passe says they will be mak­ing the movie with the help of the Miriam Makeba Es­tate, Miriam Makeba Foun­da­tion and Mama Africa Cul­tural & So­cial Trust.

Makeba, af­fec­tion­ately known as Mama Africa, was born in Jo­han­nes­burg in 1932. Her pro­fes­sional ca­reer be­gan as part of lo­cal a cap­pella group Man­hat­tan Brothers. She would later record with Sky­larks. But it was her hit sin­gle Pata Pata in 1956 that made her a house­hold name in South Africa.

Af­ter be­ing ex­iled, Makeba moved to the US, where she achieved mas­sive suc­cess and spoke out against the apartheid regime. Her mar­riage to Black Panther Stokely Carmichael, how­ever, led to her US record deals be­ing re­voked and her na­tional tours be­ing can­celled. She then moved to Guinea and later be­came the UN’s first black fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Makeba passed away in 2008, aged 76, leav­ing a sub­stan­tial body of work be­hind. The film will track her renowned songs, in­clud­ing The Click Song, Mbube, Malaika and I Shall Be Re­leased, which are hailed as South African clas­sics. Dur­ing her life­time, Makeba worked with the likes of Harry Be­la­fonte, Dizzy Gille­spie, Nina Si­mone, Odetta, Hugh Masekela and Paul Simon.

Also work­ing on the movie will be Broad­way pro­ducer Wil­lette Klaus­ner, mu­sic pro­ducer David Franco and jour­nal­ist Marc Le Chat, who met Makeba in the late 1980s and be­came her pub­li­cist and con­fi­dant for 15 years.

There is no re­lease date set for the biopic.

PHOTO: ARCHIVES / GETTY IMAGES

Miriam Makeba

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