THE MOON HAS DISAPPEARED FROM THE SKY: A TRIBUTE TO 'MAMA AFRIKA', MIRIAM MAKEBA
BY HENRY CHUKWUEMEKA ONYEMA
The journey into the night in broad daylight started with the South African reggae prince, Lucky Dube. Then Nigeria took over with Stephen Osadebey, the great king of Igbo Highlife; the irreplaceable Ozzidi freedom fighter-turned-evangelist, Sunny Okosuns bade us goodnight.He was closely followed by the patriarch Stephen Rhodes. In their wake was the bearded Ogene exponet Oliver de Coque. Even as lovers of African music wiped their tears and drowned their sorrow in the sweet memories and sweeter music of these icons, little did we know that only the great stars had eclipsed. The moon itself was about to disappear from the sky.
This has happened with the death of Miriam Makeba.Makeba' s death left me short of words. As I went home from work on November 11 after reading about her death at a newspaper stand two of her chart-bursters kept on reverberating in my head: 'Patapata' and 'Malaika'. The hauntingly deep voice, resonating with the beautiful energy of Africa; the statesque raunchy figure that filled the stage even in old age; the bold eyes that invited lovers of music to have fun even as it defied all lovers of man' s inhumanity to man and damned all haters of the black race; all these and much more are no more.
Any tribute paid to this good and great woman is insufficient.Makeba, in spite of her flaws, touched the world' s soul like few have. Her well documented struggles to reach for the stars in her chosen career by breaking racially imposed ceilings within and outside her native South Africa inspire all who dare dream. But more than that was her conviction that music could pull down the walls of apartheid in South Africa; dismantle the barriers of minority rule in Angola, Mozambique, Zimbawe and Namibia; and her ability to talk the talk and walk the walk. This leaves us, particularly my fellow Nigerians who have come to regard spinelessness and arse-licking as a way of life, with a clear message: a life that has nothing to die for has nothing to live for.
To all women, Makeba is an inspiration. To all men (well, those who knew her), she is a woman worthy of her womanhood. When I was just two years old, in 1977, Nigeria bestowed upon her an honorary citizenship. Thus she is my sister, aunt and mother. I grew up hearing and loving ' Malaika' and I thank Makeba for leaving me with such a gift. How unfathomable are the spinners of destiny; they preserved Makeba to see the fall of minority regimes in her home region; the swearing-in of South Africa' s first black president in 1994, and-joy of joys- the acension of a black man to the presidency of a once racially blighted USA. Maybe her home coming is a declaration from the Immortals that her mission has been accomplished.
Dear Makeba, receive the crown of glory you deserve from the Lord. After you do, in thanksgiving lead the heavenly choir in a rousing rendition of 'Malaika' and 'Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika'.
Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema (also spelt Onyeama) is a writer and teacher based in Lagos, Nigeria.