December 3, 2008

Losing Odetta (and Miriam Makeba)

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Damn! Odetta's gone. And only three weeks before her, Miriam Makeba.

Two strong Black women, each an inherent part of the tide of liberation that swept Africa and America in the 1960s. More than that, each a gravitational force in her own right, helping pull that tide higher and further. It is hard for those not around in those long gone days to understand how much it meant to have Black women in the public eye standing up for themselves--simply by doing that, they were standing up for all Black women, and for a better world.

And neither stopped there. Both were actively political, in the best sense of the word. They lent their voices to the Black freedom struggle in the US and to the battle to smash apartheid and settler rule in South Africa. They sang songs of the oppressed and they sang songs of freedom.

And they did it for their whole lives, their whole lives. The threat they posed to the high and mighty meant they had to face redbaiting, blacklisting and exile. It never stopped them.

Nor did age. When Miriam Makeba suffered her fatal heart attack last month, she was on stage, performing in Italy at a benefit to support anti-mob journalist Roberto Saviano! Odetta's last big concert, sung from a wheelchair, was at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in the Bay Area in October.

There's plenty of Odetta and plenty of Miriam Makeba available at YouTube, to help you meet or remember these two remarkable women. I have chosen to close with another video, a trance-y instrumental by a new Cali duo, Rabid Kangaroo. They first saw her, I understand, at that Bay Area festival and were inspired to compose this and crank out the video in three weeks.

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