Performance Wednesday, November 5, 2014 | 8 PM

Angélique Kidjo and Friends

Mama Africa: A Tribute to Miriam Makeba

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage
Grammy Award–winning vocalist Angélique Kidjo celebrates the life and music of iconic South African singer and political activist Miriam Makeba, known popularly as “Mama Africa.” Kidjo shared a close relationship with Makeba, studying with her and eventually performing with her in Paris and South Africa. Kidjo returns to Carnegie Hall special guests Ezra Koenig, Vusi Mahlasela, and Laura Mvula; Makeba’s supporting singers Faith Kekana, Stella Khumalo, and Zamo Mbutho; and introductory remarks by Whoopi Goldberg in this tribute to a remarkable woman.


  • Angélique Kidjo
  • with Special Guests:
    Ezra Koenig
  • Vusi Mahlasela
  • Laura Mvula
  • and Faith Kekana, Stella Khumalo, and Zamo Mbutho

  • Introductory remarks by Whoopi Goldberg

Event Duration

The program will last approximately two hours with no intermission.


  • Angélique Kidjo

    Grammy winner Angélique Kidjo is one of the greatest artists in international music today, a creative force with 12 albums to her name. TIME magazine has called her "Africa's premier diva." The BBC has included her in its list of Africa's 50 most iconic figures and The Guardian listed her as one of 2011's 100 most inspiring women in the world. As a performer, her striking voice, stage presence, and fluency in multiple cultures and languages have won respect from her peers and expanded her following across international borders.

    Kidjo has cross-pollinated the West African traditions of her childhood in Benin with elements of American R&B, funk, and jazz, as well as influences from Europe and Latin America. Her critically acclaimed album Djin Djin won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Album in 2008.

    Eve, her latest album on Savoy Records, debuted at the top of Billboard's world music chart in January 2014. It is dedicated to African women for their beauty and resilience; the title is in tribute to Kidjo's own mother as well as the mythical "mother of all living." The songs on Eve become all the more intimate and emotionally urgent with Kidjo's dynamic collaborations with traditional women's choirs from Kenya and various cities and villages in Benin, singing in an array of native Beninese languages, including Fon (Kidjo's first language), Yoruba, Goun, and Mina.

    Kidjo released Eve in conjunction with Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music, an autobiography published by Harper Collins. The telling of Kidjo's dramatic rise ties in perfectly with the female empowerment themes that make Eve an epic achievement in her career.

    Angélique Kidjo also travels the world, advocating on behalf of children as a UNICEF Goodwill and Oxfam Global ambassador. She created her own foundation, Batonga, dedicated to supporting the education of young girls in Africa.

    More Info

  • Ezra Koenig

    Ezra Koenig is the lead singer of the Grammy-winning band Vampire Weekend. Born in New York City, he attended Columbia University, where he majored in English literature and formed Vampire Weekend. He has also worked with artists such as Major Lazer, The Very Best, and SBTRKT. 

  • Vusi Mahlasela

    Vusi Mahlasela is simply known as "The Voice" in his home country, celebrated for his distinct, powerful voice and his poetic, optimistic lyrics. His songs of hope connect Apartheid-scarred South Africa with its promise for a better future. Raised in the Mamelodi township, where he still resides, Vusi became a singer-songwriter and poet-activist at an early age, teaching himself how to play guitar and later joining the Congress of South African Writers.

    After When You Come Back, his popular debut on BMG Africa, Vusi was asked to perform at Nelson Mandela's inauguration in 1994. He has shared the stage with Dave Matthews Band, Sting, Paul Simon, Josh Groban, Ray LaMontagne, Natalie Merchant, and Taj Mahal, among many others. But perhaps his biggest gig was in 2010 when he helped ring in the FIFA World Cup at Soweto's Orlando Stadium.

    Vusi has released seven studio albums to date; his latest release is Sing to the People (ATO Records), a celebratory live recording that looks back on 20 years as a recording artist. In light of his international and national acclaim, Vusi was honored with a SAMA (South African Music Awards) Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012.

    Vusi holds an honorary doctorate degree from the prestigious Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa. On Freedom Day last year, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma awarded Vusi with the National Order of Ikhamanga, recognizing him for "drawing attention to the injustices that isolated South Africa from the global community during the Apartheid years." Perhaps Nobel laureate and celebrated author Nadine Gordimer put it best when she said, "Vusi sings as a bird does, in total response to being alive. He is a national treasure."

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  • Laura Mvula

    A graduate of the Birmingham Conservatoire with a degree in composition, Laura Mvula started writing songs on her laptop while working as a substitute teacher in a Birmingham secondary school. She was catapulted into the limelight following the release of her UK top-10 debut album Sing to the Moon last year. Since announcing the release of her debut EP in November 2012, Mvula has been picking up critical acclaim and support from some of the industry's biggest tastemakers, who have praised the classically trained singer-songwriter's music for its fusion of orchestral soul, poetic lyrics, and thrilling harmonies.

    Mvula has been nominated for two BRIT Awards (British Female Solo Artist and British Breakthrough Act), shortlisted for the Mercury Prize, and received a nomination for the Album Award at the recent Ivor Novello Awards. Additionally, she was nominated for the BRIT's Critics' Choice Award and the Q Awards' Best New Act, and won two MOBO Awards in 2013, having received an incredible four nominations-the most for any female that year.

    Mvula recently released a re-recording of her debut album, recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios with the Metropole Orkest-an album that took her all the way to Royal Albert Hall, where she performed with the 52-piece orchestra at The Proms in a show that received a perfect five-star review from the Evening Standard. These new arrangements sent her ambitious and stunning debut to new heights, paying tribute to her classical training.

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Angelique Kidjo, Vocalist
Razor & Tie

Miriam Makeba: Africa's Most Iconic Diva

In a career that spanned five decades, she was a singer, actress, and political activist. She performed for dignitaries who included Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. She even had three private audiences with the Pope. She was Miriam Makeba, the most influential African diva of the 20th century. After initial successes with South African doo-wop pioneers the Manhattan Brothers and her own girl group the Skylarks in the 1950s, starring roles in the seminal black jazz opera King Kong (1959) and anti-Apartheid documentary Come Back Africa (1960) permitted Makeba to advance her career in exile.

Building on the rapturous reception she received during her residency at New York’s Village Vanguard, she released her eponymous debut album in 1960. American audiences were enchanted by the onomatopoeic range of vocalized clicks of Makeba’s native Xhosa vernacular on Afro-pop jazz hits like “The Click Song.” TIME magazinecompared this distinctive sound, made with a percussive flick of the tongue off the palate, to “the popping of champagne corks,” hailing Makeba as “the most exciting new singing talent to appear in many years.” Journalists were so seduced that from the first rhapsodic reviews in Billboard in 1960, she was quickly tagged as the “click-click girl.”

Yet while “The Click Song” would become her signature tune in live performance over the next five decades, Makeba herself had something of a love-hate relationship with it. As a vocal proponent of black consciousness, she was all too aware of its novelty value as an “exotic” signifier. It was only after the end of Apartheid that she recorded a new studio version on her final album, Reflections (2004).

Her penchant for swinging through traditional Xhosa wedding songs, airy Afro-Latin moods, and catchy Calypso grooves on early albums such as The World of Miriam Makeba (1963) may later have had revisionist American critics pigeonholing her as a world music pioneer, but “genre-fication” was never her thing.

As writer Bongani Madondo rhapsodized in Rolling Stone South Africa, hers “was a voice and spirit for all seasons.” Over different eras, “yours has been a child’s, a friend’s, a lover’s, a mother’s, a revolutionary’s, and indeed a diviner’s voice,” he wrote. Whether she was belting out playful Afro-pop ballads, sultry jazzy seductions, or powerful political protest songs, Makeba transmuted pain, love, and sorrow in a honeyed, yet heart-wrenchingly vulnerable mezzo-soprano that emanated deep from within her African soul. And yet, as Madondo observed, it was never really her voice that distinguished Makeba as a singer. It was the place from which it came.

Exile. It was exile that shaped Makeba’s music from the moment her South African citizenship was revoked after testifying against Apartheid at the United Nations in 1963. “Nobody will know the pain of exile until you are in exile,” she reflected about being unable to return to her homeland. “No matter where you go, there are times when people show you kindness and love, and there are times when they make you know that you are with them but not of them. That’s when it hurts,” she added of the ensuing three decades she was forced to spend as “a global citizen.”

It was the pain of exile that fueled her 1966 Grammy Award–winning album with Harry Belafonte, An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba, that railed against the horrors black South Africans were living in under Apartheid. Her rendition of executed African National Congress member Vuyisile Mini’s “Ndodemnyama Verwoerd” quickly became an anthem for the oppressed masses who would chant “Beware Verwoerd!” at protest rallies across South Africa.

It was the sound of an exiled artist channeling her homesickness on haunting renditions of Christopher Songxaka’s struggle requiem “Mayibuye” and Solomon Linda’s “Mbube,” captured on her classic Live at Bern’s Salonger album, that so bewitched Swedish audiences in 1966. It was her yearning for home that inspired her to burst onto the American Billboard charts in 1967 with an impeccably funky cover of Dorothy Masuka’s addictive dance instruction ditty, “Pata Pata,” that married township marabi-jazz grooves and samba-kissed swing into an infectious Afro-pop party starter.

But Makeba’s political commitment had its consequences. Her marriage to Black Panther activist Stokely Carmichael in 1968 resulted in broken record deals, cancelled tours, and exodus from America. But that didn’t stop Makeba. She spent the next 22 years championing African liberation across the continent. She played the first Pan-African Cultural Festival, held in Algiers, Algeria, in 1969. She provided the soundtrack for Muhammad Ali and George Foreman’s legendary “black consciousness” boxing showdown, TheRumble in theJungle,in Kinshasa, Zaire, in 1974. She became Guinea’s official delegate to the United Nations. She teamed up with boycott-busting US folk-pop star Paul Simon on his worldwide Graceland tour of 1987–1988. And she performed at the anti-Apartheid Mandela Day concert at Wembley Stadium in 1988 before her triumphant South African homecoming in 1990.

Of course, it wasn’t merely her politics or music that elevated Miriam Makeba to the status of “Mama Africa.” She was also a fashion icon. Whether she was bewitching audiences make-up–free in a sexy leopard-skin print dress in the 1950s; rocking knee-length African royalty silk drapes in the ’60s; or brandishing braids, beads, and batik cloth in the ’70s, she revolutionized notions of African female beauty, sensuality, and style. Her constant search for individualism inspired Afropolitan fashion trends from Paris to Atlanta, Johannesburg, Lagos, Brooklyn, and beyond for decades to come.

While Makeba eased into her status as an elder stateswoman of South African music during her later years—choosing to explore themes of African spirituality, love, homecoming, and her legacy rather than overt politics on 1988’s Sangoma (Healer), 2000’s Homeland, and 2004’s Reflections—she never let go of musical activism. On November 9, 2008, at a concert to support writer Roberto Saviano’s stand against the Italian mafia, she checked out in style, suffering a fatal heart attack on stage after performing her hit “Pata, Pata.”

In 2013, Miriam Makeba joined previous recipients Nelson Mandela, Kenneth Kaunda, and Fidel Castro in being honored with an Ubuntu Award for her lifelong championing of the African value system of ubuntu.

—Miles Keylock



UBUNTU: Music and Arts of South Africa

Lead funding for UBUNTU: Music and Arts of South Africa is provided by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Ford Foundation, The Howard Gilman Foundation, and The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Additional support is provided by the Mai Family Foundation, South African Tourism, and South African Airways.

UBUNTU is held in collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture of the Republic of South Africa and the South African Consulate General in New York in celebration of 20 years of freedom and democracy.
This performance is part of The Originals, and UBUNTU: Legendary Performers.

Part of