Thursday, November 23, 2017

Mama Africa by Kathryn Erskine

A planted seed grows.

Recently, I listened to Trevor Noah’s autobiography, Born a Crime.  Noah, born in 1984 South Africa of a Caucasian Swiss father and a Black South African mother was literally a crime. Noah spins story after story about his difficult growing up in South Africa in apartheid before he became a famous comic and current host of The Daily Show.

The experiences that Noah expressed were beyond anything I can imagine. Never have I been so acutely aware of the privilege I enjoy as when I listened to his life story. A seed of curiosity of  South Africa was planted in me.

This post is not about Trevor Noah. His book was the seed.

Kathryn Erskine’s picture book biography of Miriam Makeba, Mama Africa! (Farrar, Strauss, Giroux 2017) just came out.  I had an opportunity to hear Kathryn speak at a gathering at Bookworm Central and I picked up this book…the seed was growing.

I have to admit….I had never heard of Miriam Makeba. Mama Africa! is a beautifully crafted work of the life of Makeba. Makeba’s singing was banned in South Africa and then she, herself, was banned from returning to South Africa after testifying about apartheid to the United Nations.

What endeared Makeba to her fans was her song in African languages: Xhosa, Zulu, and Swahili. She sang truths white Afrikaners could not face.

Debut illustrator, Charly Palmer brings Makeba's vivacity alive with his beautiful paintings and coded text.

I don’t know how one can read Mama Africa! and not run to youtube to hear her music. (Thank goodness for youtube). Since reading Erskine's book, I find myself searching for just one more song. One youtube video has a summary of Makeba's life with some song. See it here.

Liberian poet and Penn State University Professor, Patricia Jabbeh Wesley penned a memorial poem about Makeba on the occasion of her passing in 2008.  Enjoy the poem, read the book, listen to the music…feel Mama Africa’s rhythm. It is a heartbeat.

My review on Goodreads (same as review on Amazon)

I sure am thankful to Carol's Corner for hosting Poetry Friday this holiday weekend. Thank you, Carol!


  1. Powerful story. Thanks for sharing. And what a beautiful voice. I can see how you were captivated.

  2. Thanks for this post. As I write, I am listening to Miriam's version of 'The Lion Sleeps tonight'. Just amazing! Her story, too, is inspirational.

  3. Wow! I just got lost in your post and the links. What an amazing woman and such a beautiful voice! I'm embarrassed to admit that I also did not know her name. I won't her forget it now, though! Thanks, Linda!

  4. A beautiful voice and inspiring story. Lovely to hear how the seed was planted, and grew.

  5. Thank you for taking us on this journey with you! What a woman! What a voice!

  6. Art is vital to progress. I am happy for this seed, Linda! I haven't read Kathy's book yet, but am off to order it from the library now. Inspiration -- and beauty -- is everywhere, isn't it? On another note: I LOVED meeting you at AASL! xo

  7. I think I first heard about Miriam Makabe back in the 80s, around the time Ladysmith Black Mambazo hit the US. We can probably thank Paul Simon for that. What a bland world we would live in without artists and musicians, dancers and writers all cross-fertilizing world cultures. Thanks for sharing the joy, Linda!

  8. I just got this book from my library, Linda, so your post will help make it even better. Thanks for adding the extras.

  9. I remember Miriam Makeba from when she sang with Harry Belafonte. Thanks for sharing this rich book with us Linda, I look forward to reading it.

  10. Miriam Makeba's story sounds inspiring--will look for it at the library. Thanks for sharing this.

  11. Thank you for sharing the story of this powerful and beautiful woman. Even though I don't know Swahili, I could just listen to her sing all day. Such a beautiful voice. I am glad I live in a time where more and more stories that weren't as well known are coming to light.

  12. I am moved by everything about Kathy Erskine's MAMA AFRICA! but especially the musicality & the music. Appreciations for this post. And for introducing a new poet.


Friendly, positive comments and feedback are always welcome here. Please let me know I'm not just whistling in the dark!