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South African singer 'Mama Africa' is the subject of a new film documentary

posted 27 Apr 2011, 18:04 by Mpelembe   [ updated 27 Apr 2011, 18:07 ]

Film documentary "Mama Africa" makes its U.S. premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

STARHAUS FILMPRODUKTION - Five decades of archival footage, interviews and performances of legendary South African singer Miriam Makeba, is the subject of a new documentary aptly named "Mama Africa."

The film's producer Don Edkins and Director Mika Kaurismaki began working on the film with Makeba in

2008. The team suffered a setback when the famed singer died two weeks before they were to begin shooting.

"The start wasn't very good because just before we were suppose to start shooting, she passed away. I spoke with her over the phone, but I never meet her face to face," explained the Finnish director who became a fan of Makeba as a young boy.

"In retrospect I think she knew that she wouldn't live long and I think she wanted to tell something. There have been a couple of films about her, but not any one film that you know, tells her life story and I think she wanted to do that," he added.

During Apartheid Makeba's music shined a light on the violence and racism of the South African government and made her an early icon of Black freedom. Her most famous song, Pata Pata, is also the song she dislikes the most. In the film Makeba talks about how the song has no meaning, saying it's just a song about a dance.

Makeba became a household name in 1959 when American filmmaker Lionel Rogosin featured her in his anti-apartheid documentary "Come Back, Africa." Her appearance in the movie prompted the South African government to revoke her citizenship while she was touring outside of the country. After this she would live as an exile for 27 years in the U.S., Guinea and Europe. Archival footage shows Makeba talking about her desire to return to South Africa and how she felt watching President Mandela release from prison on television.

"It was very difficult for her because I'm sure some how she felt she was a prisoner. Mandela was a prisoner in South Africa and she was in prison in exile, she couldn't go back. For example when her mother died she couldn't go back and her sisters and brothers died she couldn't go back to funerals. But she always thought that she would one day would go back. It took long time, over 30 years but finally she went back," Kaurismaki told Reuters.

Kaurismaki said Makeba's dual role as a political figure and pop-singer was a difficult mix, but that she handled it well.

"She's one of few people that could combine those two things, being a great performer, great artist, but also spreading a good message, an important message. But I don't think she was very political she did it from out of her heart and she always said I'm not singing politics, I merely sing the truth," said Kaurismaki.

In 1963, she was the first black woman to speak at the United Nations, and gained her nickname "Mama Africa" for the way she united the African continent and the attention she brought it from the rest of the world. Kaurismaki said although she was nervous to speak, she was very honored to have been asked.

Key figures featured in the film include her grandchildren, Beninoise superstar Angelique Kidjo and Jean-Marie Dore, former prime minister of Guinea and a friend of the singer.

The film is apart of the 10th edition of the Tribeca Film Festival, which ends on May 1.