Album no. 26/1001
This is Miriam Makeba’s first album, and it’s got ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’ (admittedly not in English) on it! Plus, she’s a really great singer.
Miriam Makeba was from South Africa, and when she campaigned against apartheid in 1960, South Africa revoked her passport and her right to return until apartheid ended in 1990. She was in exile for THIRTY YEARS, cranking out albums and playing gigs and supporting good causes. Thirty years without going home. What a goddamn badass.
Have you listened to this album before?
NK: I sure haven’t, but I know she used to get about with Harry Belafonte a bit.
CL: No, my musical tastes are unashamedly western. I think my only dip into African music would be from Paul Simon’s Graceland – which also makes an appearance on this list – and The Lion King.
NK: I like ‘The Retreat Song’ A LOT. She’s right into it from the start. I like the melody, and then all the instruments come in a bit later. It’s great. I wish I knew what the words meant. ‘The Click Song’ is good as well, and so is ‘Mbube’ (secretly ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’).
CL: I liked ‘Mbube’. Literally any of these songs could be in The Lion King though. ‘The Click Song’ is exactly that – those clicking percussion sounds aren’t from no instrument – that’s part of the native language of the Xhosa people in South Africa. The traditional name of the song is actually ‘Qongqothwane’ – but as she explains at the beginning of the song, English people can’t pronounce that, so it’s called ‘The Click Song’. It’s apparently about a beetle. That’s cool.
NK: You know what ‘The Click Song’ reminded me of? I’m pretty sure that’s the same language the tribesmen use in ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’, which is a South African movie I haven’t thought about in years. It’s great.
CL: ‘One More Dance’ is really weird – there’s some old bloke laughing his head off as he tries to sing. Is this meant to happen? I’m not sure.
NK: That song was strange, I agree. I think it must have been deliberate, but I was pretty confused. Also, here is a collection of things my partner said while I was listening to this and she was wandering in and out:
“What the hell is this then?”
“Ooooooh, she’s got a good voice.”
“Ha, listen to her sticking it to the english. They can’t pronounce it. Idiots.”
“WOW, SHE’S THE LION KING!”
“A wim-o-weh, a wim-o-weh, a wim-o-weh…”
“What’s her name? She’s great.”
I strongly encourage giving this album a shot, it’s really fun.
When would be the best time to listen to this?
NK: When you’re living in exile and haven’t been allowed to return home in THIRTY YEARS but you’re putting a brave face on it.
CL: Well, ‘The Click Song’ is meant to be a Xhosa wedding song so at a wedding! (But not really).
NK: I reckon play it at a wedding! It’s great.
Why has this album been included on the list?
NK: I mean, apart from her great voice, I can’t imagine there was too much music coming out of Africa at the time. Particularly South Africa during apartheid, hence the exile.
CL: This was clearly pretty significant in bringing music from around the world into the western consciousness. I can only imagine this would have been exotic back in 1960! A person from AFRICA! SINGING A SONG! Wild.
Will you be listening again?
NK: Yeah I probably will, it’s really fun! The first seven track especially are bangers, but it slows down a bit after that.
CL: I really tried to avoid listening to this album. I did a lot of housework and chores and fun things and less fun things to fill up the time so I couldn’t listen. But it wasn’t really THAT bad. Would I listen again? Probably not, but I didn’t hate it like I thought I would.