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Miriam Makeba The Best Of The Early Years Review

Compilation. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Diverse compilation of Miriam's back pages. A welcome palate-cleanser.

John Armstrong 2003

South African singer Miriam Makeba's life history is almost a history of post-war South Africa itself. But her recent material on Polydor, 'Sing Me A Song', 'Eyes On Tomorrow', 'The Legend Lives On' and others, are a little middle of the road for the true African music fan. So this compilation of her early Gallo and Syliphone material is a welcome palate-cleanser, and a reminder of her extraordinary versatility.

She was chosen at 20 to be the female voice with S.A.'s leading vocal group of that time, the ManhattanBrothers. The release four years later of 'Pata Pata' brought her to the attention of a wider African audience.

1959 was the year that saw Makeba's real international breakthrough: including a visit to perform in the States; and a Grammy Award for the album An Evening With Harry Belafonte. In 1961, after comments she made about the Sharpeville Massacre, Miriam's passport was revoked. Middle America's love affair with her ended abruptly when she married Black Power leader Stokeley Carmichael. They fled to Guinee-Conakry on the West African Coast, where Miriam lived and recorded with the Syliphone record company.

Paul Simon's invitation in 1987 to appear on Gracelands resuscitated her career. In 1990, Makeba returned to a post-apartheid South Africa, and continues to this day to tour the world almost constantly with her 8-member band.

Ah, yes, the music. She moves from rough-hewn shebeen-style marabi with its New Orleans clarinet and guitar inflections ('Orlando') through Christian gospel -drenched pieces ('Live Humble'), to the Sarah Vaughan-like sophistication of 'Back Of The Moon'.

'Pata Pata' is there, of course, as is her first-ever studio session from 1952 with the Manhattan Brothers ('Laku Tshone 'Ilanga'). But this reviewer's favourite material is from her 1975 Syliphone album Miriam Makeba And Her Guinea Quintet, represented here by 'Teya Teya', 'Milele' and others.

At 24 tracks and mid-price, this is great value, with informative liner notes and individual comments on each track, and an excellent companion to the recent Best Of Dorothy Masuka collection.

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