Miriam Makeba's "Mama Africa" Documentary Must Be "Part of Black History" [EXCLUSIVE]
1 year ago
Says her former bassist Bill Salter
Miriam Makeba is one of Africa's most celebrated artists, but the road to her reverence wasn't without it's bumps. From having her South African citizenship revoked after testifying against it's system of apartheid before the United Nations, to then having her U.S. record deals and tours canceled upon her marriage to Black Panthers leader Stokely Carmichael, Makeba was a woman without a country, but with a voice.
With the help of Harry Belafonte, a band was formed to back the star -- including bassist Bill Salter who, now 75 years old, appears in "Mama Africa," a new documentary chronicling the life of the late legend. Salter speaks with Loop 21 about working with Makeba, her rocky career, and what message he hopes the film relays to the public.
Loop 21: What will film audiences find to be the most surprising discovery?
Salter: How she was received, especially in Africa. She was respected and upheld as high as one could be as an artist. Also, people who heard her were fascinated by the language and the exploration of what the sounds meant because they were so foreign to the rest of the world -- that clicking sound. I tried imitating it; it didn't always work out [laughs]. It was a combination of Zulu and Zhosa. She spoke about 20 different languages -- most were African dialects. She was the most dynamic person I've ever known. She'd turn around, start speaking to someone else; I thought I was following the conversation and all of the sudden, I'm not [laughs]. I don't recall the translations. I don't remember taking notes. I really probably should have.
Loop 21: Were you worried to align yourself with such a polarizing figure?
Salter: No, when I joined her, she was still a new phenomenon. Her records weren't banned until way later. It wasn't until she married Stokely Carmichael that the curtain dropped. The U.S. was against him. Even though, during her performances, she'd give some idea of what was going on in South Africa on a minimal scale, when she married him, it was a no-no. If she was going to associate herself with him then she had to go. It was just the American policy. She was not accepted in the money-making market here anymore -- not so much because of her, but of what he stood for.
Loop 21: Do you think her career ever recovered from her relationship with Carmichael?