Monday, November 10, 2008

Miriam Makeba, Gone to Glory

Thank you Miriam Makeba, for being you. You gave a little black girl in the South Bronx many external proofs of African genius and beauty,. I think of you as a personal saint and a friend. I cherish you as a hero I memorized your every inflection and every word on the three records my parents owned. You wore your hair naturally!! This was singular and revolutionary for a black American girl in the fifties, who was burnt by a hot comb. You were natural and beautiful. You were natural and commanded the stage. You were natural and accomplished. There was another way to be, to see, and to be seen, to occupy the world as a whole authentic self. To wear your hair as it is, and be a star!

You sang the songs of your people and many others. So I learned to shape my mouth in new ways trying to click with you in the Click Song, singing as you did, in other languages, becoming through your music, both a child of Africa and a citizen of the world. Now sister, Come go to glory with a me, you sang. Where did the Naughty little Flea Go, Love tastes like Strawberries, She Can't Crossover, Suliram.  Songs from the West Indies, where my grandparents came from, songs in French, Hebrew,
songs of the people from many wheres. These songs were light and joy and your voice was sustenance and comfort, beautiful and warm, Your songs informed me, taught me, shaped me.

My brother and best friend and I danced and performed your songs for our friends and neighbors Darling go home your husband is ill, is he ill well then give him a pill come my dear friend just one more dance, then ill go home to my poor old man.... ahhh how we loved you!!!!

... In my native village of Johannesburg...., you told us, and so I cared about Johannesburg and found it on the map and later, when I grew up, supported your people's struggle to end apartheid, because we were kin.

Your death reminds me of other losses, my parents who were smart and hip enough to bring your music home to us, who were open to your undeniability, who let us play you again and again and again. I am so so grateful that I got to see you live with my mommy, to connect that circle of gratitude and inspiration and love, to have been in your live physical presence and applauded.

My ears will always hold the memory of your singular voice. Your marriage and move back to the continent were further inspiration. You were making change manifest. I am so glad that you got to see hope reborn in America. I am moved that you died after performing in support of another who worked for change, for righting wrongs. Know we always held you in our hearts, where you reigned.

Thank you, Miriam Makeba, for singing truth to power, for giving us to ourselves, for a lifetime of effort and inspiration Thank you, for having been here among us.

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