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  RIP: We lose two great voices for justice
ODETTA, "The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement" (Dec. 2, 2008)
MIRIAM MAKEBA, "Mama Afrika" (Nov. 10, 2008)
  Updated: Dec. 7/08

 ODETTA (updated Dec. 7/08)

"If only one could be sure that every 50 years a voice and a soul like Odetta's would come along, the centuries would pass so quickly and painlessly we would hardly recognize time"
– Maya Angelou

The great Odetta passed away on Dec. 2 at the age of 77. She had recently been hospitalized following kidney failure, but she kept going, motivated by her determination to perform at President Obama's inauguration in January. Sadly, her performance there will only be in spirit.

I did not see Odetta perform live until 2002 at Harbourfront, where her spirit, her power, her presence, her humour, and her strength were so overwhelming, the experience will always remain with me.

There will be numerous articles and memorials to her, and I will post some of the links here. Meantime, read the New York Times obituary.  Be sure to watch the 19 minute video clip, and click the full-screen icon to best get the best sense of her spirit.

Odetta's last recorded live performance was at the Ottawa Folk Festival in September, 2008. It's available here on CBC Radio 2's "Concerts on Demand".

At her performances, she always spoke about her favourite song being "This Little Light of Mine" (I'm Going to Let It Shine"). She would introduce it by reading the words of Marianne Williamson:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you, not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

Odetta would then encourage the whole audience to sing along... vigourously! Nobody was to worry if they were in tune or not. "If your neighbour looks at you funny, just sing it louder... Let It Shine" she'd say.

Her light will always shine.

(Photo: Poster for her April, 2003 appearance at Hugh's Room)


MIRIAM MAKEBA (updated Nov. 27/08)

Sadly, the great South African singer died Nov. 10 from cardiac arrest following a concert in Italy. Her death is a huge loss, but her life and music was an even greater gift to the world.

Perhaps the first time the world "discovered" her was in the documentary, Come Back Africa, shot clandestinely in South Africa, largely in Sophiatown in 1959.   The film was described as "the last intellectual snapshot of a brilliant literary generation before its destruction in the Sharpeville massacre of 1960". The film was banned in South Africa; Makeba travelled to Europe for the film's debut, and she wasn't able to return home for another 31 years.

Nelson Mandela said today, “She was South Africa’s first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika. She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours.”

Here is a link to obituary in the London Times. The author of the obituary, Nigel Williamson, wrote today in a music forum that his wife noted that of all the great musicians he'd interviewed, Makeba was the only one he'd asked to sign a photograph.

It's framed in my study and I'm looking at it now. I never asked Jagger, Richards, Plant, Page, McCartney Neil Young et al to sign anything. Miriam was the only one.

Why? Because she was heroic, in the truest sense of the word. The others just made music that I liked. And there's a world of difference...


Here are a few video clips of Makeba:

A beautiful excerpt from Come Back Africa:

"Soweto Blues": a very moving performance and interview with her. She performs the song with Hugh Masekela who wrote it following the Sharpeville Massacre. In the interview she describes the emotion of watching Mandela leave prison, and when he later asked her to come home, she found out she was still officially banned. ("Tell the computer Mr Mandela says we should all go home" she told the embassy official).