Lifetime Achievers Award Recipients
Dr Miriam Makeba
Miriam Makeba, also known as “Mama Africa,” was a popular South-African singer who introduced Xhosa and Zulu songs to Western audiences. She is best known for the songs “Pata Pata,” “The Click Song” and “Malaika.”
Miriam Makeba was born in South Africa in 1932. Her singing appearance in the documentary film Come Back, Africa (1959) attracted the interest of Harry Belafonte. With his help, Makeba settled in the United States, where she embarked on a successful singing and recording career. In 1965, she and Belafonte won a Grammy Award for best folk recording. She received renewed attention in the mid-1980s, after she met Paul Simon and joined Simon’s history-making Graceland tour. Makeba is best known for the songs “Pata Pata,” “The Click Song” and “Malaika.” She continued making music and working as a civil rights activist until her death in 2008.
Early Life and Career
Miriam Makeba was born Zensi Miriam Makeba on March 4, 1932, in Prospect Township, near Johannesburg, South Africa, to a Xhosa father and a Swazi mother. Makeba began singing in her school choir as a young girl, and by the mid-1950s, she was landing local gigs as a full-time professional singer. By the end of the decade, she had made a name for herself throughout South Africa.
Miriam Makeba continued making music and fighting for causes that she believed in until her death, following a heart attack on November 9, 2008, at the age of 76, in Castel Volturno, Italy.
By the end of her career, Makeba had recorded 30 original albums and 19 compilation albums, and had collaborated with other musicians on several other projects.
Dr Caiphis Semenya
Instrumentation: arranger, bandleader, vocals
Genre: African Jazz, jazz, mbaqanga
CAIPHUS Semenya is one of South Africa’s foremost musical directors and composers, with recent credits including the music scores for the SABC series Molo Fish, Vicious Circle, and Gaba Mootho, as well as a lifetime of work as a performer and arranger of African music.
Semenya left South Africa in the 1960’s, together with his wife, singer Letta Mbulu. Whilst in exile, he worked with compatriots Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Hotep Galeta, and Miriam Makeba amongst many others.
He subsequently took up residence in Los Angeles, where his talent resulted in work with the top range of American artists and producers, and saw his compositions being performed by Cannonball Adderley, Harry Belafonte, The Crusaders, Lou Rawls, and Nina Simone, amongst others.
Most notable have been Semenya’s regular collaborations with Quincy Jones. The association has seen Semenya composing all the African music for Alex Hayley’s Roots Pt 1 and Pt 2, and also the African music for the Steven Spielberg-directed Colour Purple. Semenya’s work for Colour Purple earned him an Oscar Nomination.
Semenya has composition credits for several tracks on Quincy Jones?album “Back on the Block”, including the melody for the title track, which received a Grammy Award as album of the year in 1995.
As a performing artist and big band arranger, Semenya toured Africa with the production BUWA during the 1980’s. He is probably best known to the home audience through the performances of “Caiphus & Letta”, and hit songs such as “Angelina” and “Matswale”.
In 1989, he was the musical director for the South African component of the Wembley Stadium “Nelson Mandela Tribute” concert. He returned from exile in 1990, and in 1991 headlined the Unity concert at FNB Stadium.
The 1990’s saw Semenya working both sides of the Atlantic, whilst he and his family relocated to Johannesburg. Celebrated performances included the Africa Night at Montreux Jazz Festival, a sold out series at Sun City, and numerous open air concerts – often together with his wife Letta Mbulu.
Semenya released “Woman’s got a right to be” in 1995, and collaborated with Jonas Gwangwa to script the music for the launch of the African Union.
In April 2004, together with Hugh Masekela, Jonas Gwangwa, Letta Mbulu and Sibongile Khumalo, he formed the Creative Collective, which co-ordinated the musical and artistic programme for South Africa’s
Dr Letta Mbulu
Genre: African, mbaqanga, soul
Letta was born and raised in Soweto. There, her musical talents became widely recognised when, at an early age, she joined the then famous African Jazz and Variety company. She then went on to receive further acclaim as a member of the prestigious Union of South African Artists.
These beginnings were to prove invaluable in her musical development as she flourished in an environment that exposed her to influences that encompassed not only her traditional folk music, but also the ever-growing contemporary sounds of urban South Africa, the Brazilians Bossanova and American jazz and blues.
Still in her teens, Letta began touring outside of Africa with the musical “King Kong” which ran for a year in England following a highly successful two year run in South Africa. When the tour ended, she returned to South Africa but soon the policies of Apartheid were to force her to leave her native land for the U.S.A.
Her first major engagement in America was at the Village Gate in New York City where she began to win hearts of the American public. As a result of the outstanding critical acclaim she won at the Village Gate, she was invited to tour with the late alto saxophone virtuoso, Cannonball Adderley. After that she joined forces with Harry Belafonte in what was to become a lasting and rewarding musical relationship which took them on several world tours.
Letta then married another of South Africa’s finest talents, Caiphus Semenya, whom she had met whilst touring with “King Kong”.
She has been heard by millions chanting the opening title theme and most of the African music in “Roots” Part I and II, the highest rated television show of its kind. For this performance Quincy Jones was prompted to write “Letta is a roots lady, projecting a sophistication and warmth which stirs hope for attaining pure love, beauty and unity in the world. Letta’s music is simply too beautiful to miss!” Letta received the coveted Emmy Award for her performance on Roots and a gold record for the soundtrack.
Letta’s screen credits include “A Warm December” with Sidney Pottier and the Steven Spielberg and Quincy Jones production of “The Colour Purple”. She also narrated “You struck a Rock”, a documentary film that focused on the role of women in South Africa. Further more, she was the woman’s voice on Michael Jackson’s song “Liberian Girl” off the “Bad” album.
Letta was one of the founding members of South African Artists United (SAAU), a non-sectarian, non-partisan and non-profit organization formed in 1986. In January 1987, the organization launched a musical with a political and historical theme called “Buwa”, with Letta playing a leading role. This show toured throughout Africa to critical acclaim until November 1988. To her South African fans, Letta has become a legend in her own time. She has never released an album that has failed to achieve platinum status (50,000 units) and has had a string of smash hits that include “Maru a pula”, “I need your love”, “Buza”, “Everybody sign along” and many others.
On their initial return to the country, Letta and Caiphus performed in the Unity ’91 Festival. This marked their first time they had shared a stage with their fellow musicians on home soil since exile. She is today an accomplished international artist that has graced the stages of the world and can bring an audience to its feet with her incredible range and control. Her extraordinary performances in concerts are the result of her life experiences which span several continents and cultures. Her interaction with life provides the momentum for a fresh musical approach which is African and yet, international, sophisticated and yet contemporary, percussive and ever so melodic.
The vocal style is clearly her own, “This music, our music”, she says, “expresses hope, joy and determination; an unconquerable spirit. Hope for the future because we know it belongs to us.” Though she has been away from South Africa for twenty-six long years, she has not lost her roots or that soulful expression which is so distinctively Letta. There is a certain purity to her music that cannot be, and never will be denied.
Not Yet Uhuru
After a break of nine years, March 1992 marked the long-awaited release of a new album by the remarkable Letta Mbulu. Entitled “NOT YET UHURU”, the album was Letta’s very first to be recorded on South Africa soil. It was arranged and produced by her multi-talented husband Caiphus Semenya, who also composed most of the material.
Having returned to South Africa after twenty-six years in exile, the couple greatly enjoyed the opportunity to work with South Africa’s finest musicians. The finished product is a superb blend of international experience and home-grown talent.
Letta’s unforgettable voice sends a warm and positive message to all South Africans through a collection of songs that will appeal to both the young and the not so young. The music bridges the racial divide and calls for peace and unity throughout the land.