Wednesday, May 26, 2010

May's "Forgotten" Music: Miriam Makeba (and some mid-'90s women in punk rock)



It seems unlikely that Miriam Makeba, who died in 2008 after a life devoted to music and activism for pan-African liberation and more, and who was perhaps the most eclectic performer (and among the most influential) to come out of Africa in the '60s, could be considered forgotten...but she was also, by the careless and foolish, often not accorded sufficient respect. The documentarians who made the boxing film When We Were Kings, for example, in offering a view of the culturual and political events around the Ali/Foreman fight in Zaire in 1974, managed to throw in every scrap they could find of James Brown sweating backstage while waiting to go on (and give a rather distracted performance)...while repeatedly running only a few-seconds clip of Makeba, singing part of a click song, and meant by the fillmmakers to represent the "evil spirits" congregating over the event. A woman who had stood against apartheid, been exiled from her home country because of it, but who had also helped inspire interest around the world and particularly in the other nations of Africa in their folk song traditions (and those of others) was thus insulted; the clowns who conduct the Chicago-based radio nerdfest Sound Opinions, in attempting to eulogize Makeba, managed to mispronounce both of her names, as "Mariam Makeeba" (the surname error, for "mah-Kay-bah," is common; you have to work, as an English-speaker, to mispronounce Miriam) and to screw up the title of her biggest commercial hit in the US, "Pata Pata" (as "Pato Pato" for no earthly reason). They also, rather than running the studio/hit recording of the song, found one of the muddiest live performances they could've dug up to then play in part.

Here's "Pata Pata," apparently in a performance for Brazilian television:


...but while a fine and danceable song, such others on that first album I heard by her (her eleventh released in the US, and her second for Warner/Reprise) as "Yetentu Tizaleny," "Maria Fulo" and "Saduva" were even better...and her plainspoken protest song "A Piece of Ground" made it's point clearly. Happily, the album Pata Pata, among several others, is still pretty easy to find on cd or as a download.

Makeba's career was slightly parallel to that of the Weavers in the US...eclectic folk and folkish repetoire, sometimes some pop commercial sweetening to tempt "crossover" listeners, oppression on the part of their national governments, and yet the basic appeal of their work allowed them to reach wide audiences around the world. Certainly both the Weavers and Makeba had some success covering Solomon Linda's "Mbube" before the Tokens or Disney got their hands on it...



She was married for a while to her fellow expat Hugh Masekela, and they were likely to collaborate throughout their careers:



And here's a performance in Ghana in 1973, about which I know nothing, including the name of the song she's performing, but it's wonderful stuff despite some decidedly anti-professional camera work (worth putting up with DailyMotion's ads):



And to wrap up this brief gloss of her career, a jazzy bit of singing with the staff of the anti-apartheid newspaper Drum, from the film Have You Seen Drum Lately?.



Briefly noted:
In the early 1990s, there were at least two schools of feminist women's punk rock, one of which was growing in visibility as Riot Grrl (or Grrrl, add Rs to taste or anger), which among other aspects featured usually young women hoping to reclaim their girlhood when they felt that it had been stolen from them, and otherwise find a way of making feminism comfortable and fun for themselves...and their most prominent cheerleaders were the band Bikini Kill:



While more likely to apply feminist critique in macro and micro circumstances without resort to nostalgia, and representing more what Alice Walker called a "womanist" perspective, were a number of bands who might offer more direct insight, and at least as forcefully, none moreso than Spitboy:






I was wearing a Spitboy t-shirt when I met birthday man Harlan Ellison, age 76 tomorow (he was signing Dream Corridor issues and didn't ask); I met Spitboy lead singer Adrienne Droogas once; she was a bit distracted at the time, considering as she was at the time, if I'm not mistaken, leaving the band (which would gain another member and become Instant Girl; Droogas would go on to the Pennsylvania-based Aus Rotten). Kathleen Hanna, most common lead singer of Bikini Kill, was pretty consistently rude to me when we'd meet in DC in the '90s, but that didn't worry me too much; the music was still good (up till the bland last album and its attempt at pop; Le Tigre, her next band, was an improvement over the last BK album, if not over Bikini Kill itself).

See the roundup of May "forgotten" music posts at Scott Parker's blog, where various forms of Star Wars has been the subject of the week...

For some reason the Comments "button" below has only intermittently been visible unless one is in this post specifically...ah, sweet mysteries of Blogspot. Which gives me another chance to plug the wonders of the CBS's continuing series (even doing well in the ratings), The Good Wife, which is probably minute by minute the best serial drama on US television right now. And on commercial broadcast. Amazing.

6 comments:

George said...

Once again, you've gone outside the box, Todd. Very interesting as always!

Todd Mason said...

Well, frankly, George, I have a great big box, I guess. I thought that was the point of this kind of excercise! Glad you liked the quick glosses and samples...I shall have to investigate musical widgets so I don't have to depend on as many external links...which have been keeping me from going Even Farther Out in a few instances...

Evan Lewis said...

That Makeba stuff is great!

Todd Mason said...

Yep, wasn't she?

I like the other music, too, of course...but as a former officemate of sorts would say about it, That's very soothing.

K. A. Laity said...

Good stuff and a wildly eclectic mix. I have to come back to listen to all of it, but it's great to see this kind of thing celebrated. It is a bit shocking to think of Makeba as "forgotten" but that's the path of youth, eh.

Todd Mason said...

Remarkable that people engaged with music missed her over the decades...and interesting that my cranky entries are trending toward excoriating idiots who show insufficient respect to Makeba and Thurber...