Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba
Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba and Dizzy Gillespie in concert (1991).
Background information
Birth name Zenzile Miriam Makeba[1]
Also known as Mama Afrika
Born 4 March 1932(1932-03-04)
Prospect Township, Johannesburg, South Africa
Died 10 November 2008(2008-11-10) (aged 76)
Castel Volturno, Italy
Genres World music, folk, pop rock, jazz
Occupations Singer
Years active 1954–2008
Labels Manteca, RCA, Mercury Records, Kapp Records, Collectables, Suave Music, Warner Bros., PolyGram, Drg, Stern's Africa, Kaz, Sonodisc
Website Official website

Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 10 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a Grammy Award winning South African singer and civil rights activist.

In the 1960s she was the first artist from Africa to popularize African music in the U.S. and around the world. She is best known for the song "Pata Pata", first recorded in 1957 and released in the U.S. in 1967. She recorded and toured with many popular artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and her former husband Hugh Masekela.

She actively campaigned against the South African system of apartheid. As a result, the South African government revoked her citizenship and right of return. After the end of apartheid she returned home. She died on 10 November 2008 after performing in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the Region of Campania.


Early years

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer-herbalist). Her father, who died when she was six years old, was a Xhosa. When she was eighteen days old, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African homemade beer distilled from malt and cornmeal. Her mother was sentenced to a six-month prison term, so Miriam spent her first six months of life in jail.[2][3] As a child, she sang in the choir of the Kilmerton Training Institute' in Pretoria, a primary school that she attended for eight years.[4][5]

Her professional career began in the 1950s when she was featured in the South African jazz group the Manhattan Brothers, and appeared for the first time on a poster. She left the Manhattan Brothers to record with her all-woman group, The Skylarks,[6] singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa.[2] As early as 1956, she released the single for "Pata Pata".[5] The single was played on all the radio stations and made her known throughout all of South Africa.[7] Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to leave home.[citation needed]

Her break came in 1959 when she had a short guest appearance in Come Back, Africa, an anti-apartheid documentary produced and directed by American independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. The short cameo made an enormous impression on the viewers and Lionel Rogosin managed to organise a visa for her to attend the première of the film at the twenty-fourth edition of the Venice Film Festival in Italy where the film won the prestigious Critics' Award.[8][9][10] That year, Makeba sang the lead female role in the Broadway-inspired South African musical King Kong,[4] alongside her future husband, Hugh Masekela.[2] She made her US debut on the first of November 1959, on The Steve Allen Show.[11][5]


I always wanted to leave home. I never knew they were going to stop me from coming back. Maybe, if I knew, I never would have left. It is kind of painful to be away from everything that you've ever known. Nobody will know the pain of exile until you are in exile. No matter where you go, there are times when people show you kindness and love, and there are times when they make you know that you are with them but not of them. That's when it hurts.

—Miriam Makeba[12]

Makeba then travelled to London where she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her in gaining entry to the United States and achieving fame there.[13] When she tried to return to South Africa in 1960 for her mother's funeral, she discovered that her South African passport had been cancelled.[14] She signed with RCA Records and released Miriam Makeba, her first U.S. studio album, in 1960.[14] In 1962, Makeba and Belafonte sang at John F. Kennedy's birthday party at Madison Square Garden, but Makeba did not go to the aftershow party because she was ill. President Kennedy insisted on meeting her, so Belafonte sent a car to pick her up and she met the President of the United States.[15] In 1963, Makeba released her second studio album for RCA, The World of Miriam Makeba. The album, an early example of world music, peaked at number eighty-six on the Billboard 200.[14][16] Later that year, after testifying against apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked.[4] She was a woman without a country, but the world came to her aid, and Guinea, Belgium and Ghana issued her international passports, and she became, in effect, a citizen of the world.[14] In her life, she had nine passports,[2] and was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries.[15]

In 1966 Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba.[9][16] The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid, and it was one of the first American albums to present traditional Zulu, Sotho and Swahili songs in an authentic setting.[14] From the time of her New York debut at the Village Vanguard, her fame and reputation grew. She released many of her most famous hits in the United States, including "The Click Song" ("Qongqothwane" in Xhosa) and "Malaika". Time called her the "most exciting new singing talent to appear in many years," and Newsweek compared her voice to "the smoky tones and delicate phrasing" of Ella Fitzgerald and the "intimate warmth" of Frank Sinatra.[2] Despite the success that made her a star in the U.S., she wore no makeup and refused to curl her hair for shows, thus establishing a style that would come to be known internationally as the "Afro look".[8] In 1967, more than ten years after she wrote the song, the single "Pata Pata" was released in the United States and became a worldwide hit.[5]

I’d already lived in exile for 10 years, and the world is free, even if some of the countries in it aren’t, so I packed my bags and left.

—Miriam Makeba[17]

Her marriage to Trinidad-born civil rights activist, Black Panther, and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States, and her record deals and tours were cancelled.[5] As a result, the couple moved to Guinea,[4] her home for the next 15 years, where they became close with President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife, Andrée.[2][18] Makeba was appointed Guinea's official delegate to the United Nations, for which she won the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986.[5][9][19][20] She also separated from Carmichael in 1973 and continued to perform primarily in Africa, Europe and Asia, but not in the United States, where a de facto boycott was in effect.[17] Makeba was one of the entertainers at the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaïre.[21] She addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the second time in 1975.[2]

In those years, when I came to the States, people were always asking me why I didn't sing anymore. I'd tell them, ‘I sing all around the world—Asia, Africa, Europe—but if you don't sing in the US, then you haven’t really made it.’ That's why I'll always be grateful to Paul Simon. He allowed me to bring my music back to my friends in this country.

—Miriam Makeba[17]

After the death of her only daughter Bongi Makeba in 1985, she decided to move to Brussels.[2] In the following year, Hugh Masekela introduced Makeba to Paul Simon, and a few months later she embarked on the very successful Graceland Tour, which was documented on music video.[22][17][23] Two concerts held in Harare, Zimbabwe, were filmed in 1987 for release as Graceland: The African Concert. After touring the world with Simon, Warner Bros. Records signed Makeba and she released Sangoma ("Healer"), an a cappella album of healing chants named in honour of her mother who was an "isangoma" ("a healer").[17] Shortly thereafter her autobiography Makeba: My Story was published and subsequently translated from English into other languages including German, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish.[5] She took part in the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, a popular-music concert staged on 11 June 1988 at Wembley Stadium, London, and broadcast to 67 countries and an audience of 600 million.[24] Also referred to as Freedomfest, Free Nelson Mandela Concert, and Mandela Day, the event called for Mandela's release.

Return to South Africa

Nelson Mandela's 70th Birthday Tribute increased pressure on the government of South Africa to release Mandela, and in 1990, State President of South Africa Frederik Willem de Klerk reversed the ban on the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid organisations, and announced that Nelson Mandela would shortly be released from prison.[25] Mandela, who was effectively released from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl on 11 February 1990,[26] persuaded Miriam Makeba to return to South Africa. She returned home on 10 June 1990, on her French passport.[2][27]

In 1991, Makeba, with Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Masekela, recorded and released her studio album, Eyes on Tomorrow. The album combined jazz, R&B, pop, and African music, and was a hit in Africa. Makeba and Gillespie then toured the world together to promote it.[17] In November of the same year, she made a guest appearance in the episode "Olivia Comes Out of the Closet" of The Cosby Show. In 1992 she starred in the film Sarafina!. The film's plot centers on students involved in the 1976's Soweto youth uprisings, and Makeba portrayed the title character's mother, "Angelina". The following year she released Sing Me a Song.

On 16 October 1999, Miriam Makeba was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).[28] In January 2000, her album, Homeland, produced by Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn for the New York City based record label Putumayo World Music,[29] was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category.[30] She worked closely with Graça Machel-Mandela, who at the time was the South African first lady, for children suffering from HIV/AIDS, child soldiers, and the physically handicapped.[2]

The Polar Music Prize for 2002 is being awarded to the South African singer, Miriam Makeba. Miriam Makeba embodied the concept of world music long before the term even existed on the musical map. [...]
The presence of Miriam Makeba on the global music scene lights candles in the darkness and brings the hope of a better world.

Polar Music Prize 2002[31]

In 2001 she was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin, "for outstanding services to peace and international understanding".[9] She shared the Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina.[9] The prize is regarded as Sweden's foremost musical honour. They received their Prize from Carl XVI Gustaf King of Sweden during a nationally-televised ceremony at Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, on 27 May 2002.[31] She also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony where she and others recalled the struggles of black South Africans against the injustices of apartheid through the use of music. In 2004, Makeba was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Makeba started a worldwide farewell tour in 2005, holding concerts in all of those countries that she had visited during her working life.[15]

Death and legacy

On 9 November 2008, she became ill while taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the Region of Campania. The concert was being held in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy. Makeba suffered a heart attack after singing her hit song "Pata Pata", and was taken to the "Pineta Grande" clinic where doctors were unable to revive her.[32][n 1][33][34] Her publicist notes that Makeba had suffered "severe arthritis" for some time.[35] She and family members were based in Northriding, Gauteng, at the time of her passing.

On 25, 26 and 27 September 2009, a tribute show to Makeba entitled "Hommage à Miriam Makeba" and curated by Grammy Award-winning Beninoise singer-songwriter and activist Angélique Kidjo for the Festival d'Ile de France, was held at the Cirque d'hiver in Paris.[36] The same show but with the English title of "Mama Africa: Celebrating Miriam Makeba" was held at the Barbican in London on 21 November 2009.[37]


Studio albums

  • The Many Voices of Miriam Makeba (1960) (LP Kapp KL1274)
  • Miriam Makeba (1960) (LP RCA LSP2267)
  • The World of Miriam Makeba (1963) (LP RCA LSP2750) #86 (US)[16]
  • The Voice of Africa (1964) (LP RCA LSP2845) #122 (US)[16]
  • Makeba Sings! (1965) (LP RCA LSP3321)
  • An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba (1965) (LP with Harry Belafonte; RCA LSP3420; Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording) #85 (US)[16]
  • The Magic of Makeba (1965) (LP RCA LSP3512)
  • The Magnificent Miriam Makeba (1966) (LP Mercury 134016)
  • All About Miriam (1966) (LP Mercury 134029)
  • Pata Pata (1967) (LP Reprise RS6274) #74 (US)[16]
  • Makeba! (1968) (LP Reprise RS6310)
  • Keep Me in Mind (1970) (LP Reprise RS6381)
  • A Promise (1974) (LP RCA YSPL1-544)
  • Miriam Makeba & Bongi (1975) (LP with Bongi Makeba; Guinea: Editions Syliphone Conakry SLP 48)
  • Country Girl (1978) (LP Sonodisc ESP165518)
  • Comme une symphonie d'amour (1979) (LP Sonodisc ESP 7501)
  • Sangoma (1988) (CD Warner Bros. 25673)
  • Welela (1989) (CD Gallo CDGSP3084) #6 (US)[16]
  • Eyes on Tomorrow (1991) (CD Gallo CDGSP3086) #10 (US)[16]
  • Sing Me a Song (1993) (CD CDS12702)
  • Homeland (2000) (CD Putumayo PUTU1642)
  • Reflecting (2004) (CD Gallo Music GWVCD-51) #12 (US)[16]
  • Makeba Forever (2006) (CD Gallo Music CDGURB-082)

Live albums

  • Miriam Makeba in Concert! (1967) (LP) (Reprise RS6253) #182 (US)[16]
  • Live in Tokyo (1968) (LP) (Reprise SJET8082)
  • Live in Conakry: Appel a l'Afrique (1974) (LP) (Sonodisc SLP22)
  • Enregistrement public au Theatre des Champs-Elysées (1977) (LP) (released on CD6508 as Pata Pata: Live in Paris in 1998)
  • Live at Berns Salonger, Stockholm, Sweden, 1966 (2003) (CD) (Gallo Music GWVCD-49)


  • The Best of Miriam Makeba (LP) Canada: RCA Victor LSP-3982, 1968
  • Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba (as Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba) (2xLP) Camden PJL2-8042, 1975
  • Miriam Makeba (LP) Italy: Record Bazaar RB 254, 1980
  • The Queen of African Music (CD) Verlag Pläne 831 655-938, 1987
  • Africa (CD) Germany: Novus 3155-2-N/ND 83155, 1991
  • Miriam Makeba and The Skylarks: Volume 1 (as Miriam Makeba and The Skylarks; Remastered from 78/45 RPM recorded between 1956 and 1959) (CD) TELCD 2303, 1991
  • Folk Songs from Africa (CD) SAAR CD 12514, 1994
  • En public à Paris et Conakry (CD), 1996
  • Hits and Highlights (CD), 1997
  • Miriam Makeba and The Skylarks: Volume 2 (as Miriam Makeba and The Skylarks; Remastered from 78/45 RPM recorded between 1956 and 1959) (CD) TELCD 2315, 1997
  • The Best of Miriam Makeba (CD) BMG, 2000
  • Legend (CD) Next Music CDSL21, 2001
  • Mama Africa: The Very Best of Miriam Makeba (CD), 2001
  • The Guinea Years (CD/LP) STCD3017/SLP48, 2001
  • Mother Africa: The Black Anthology (CD), 2002
  • The Best of Miriam Makeba: The Early Years (CD) Wrasse WRASS 088, 2002
  • The Definitive Collection (CD) UK: Wrasse WRASS 062, 2002
  • Her Essential Recordings (2xCD) Manteca MANTDBL502, 2006
  • Mama Afrika 1932-2008 (CD) Gallo, 2009

Extended plays

  • Makeba - Belafonte (as Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte) (Vinyl, 7", 45 RPM) Germany: RCA Victor EPA 9035, 1961
  • The Click Song (Vinyl, 7", EP) France: London RE 10.145, 1963
  • Chants d'Afrique (Vinyl, 7") France: RCA Victor 86.374, 1964


  • "Duze" (1956) (10-inch shellac 78 rpm mono Gallotone GB.2062)
  • "Pass Office Special" (1957) (10-inch shellac 78 rpm mono Gallotone GB.2134)
  • "The Click Song" / "Mbube" (1963) (7-inch vinyl London HL 9747)
  • "Malaika" / "Malcolm X" (1965) (7-inch vinyl Kenya: Sonafric SYL 565)
  • "Pata Pata" (1967) (7-inch vinyl Reprise 0606) #12 (US)[16]
  • "Malayisha" (1967) (7-inch vinyl Reprise)
  • "Emavungwini" (1968) (7-inch vinyl France, Spain: Reprise)
  • "I Shall Be Released" / "Iphi Ndilela (Show Me the Way)" (1969) (7-inch vinyl Germany: Reprise RA 0804)
  • "Pata Pata" / "Click Song Number 1" (1972) (7-inch vinyl Germany, Netherlands: Reprise REP 14 217)
  • "We Got to Make It" / "Promise" (1975) 7-inch vinyl with Instrumentalgruppe German Democratic Republic: AMIGA 4 56 044, 1974, and France: Disques Espérance)
  • "Pata Pata" / "Malayisha" (1976) (7-inch vinyl Italy: Reprise 14 267, released in France in 1978)
  • "Hauteng" / "Talking and Dialoging" (1978) (7-inch vinyl France: Disques Espérance ESP 155027)
  • "Comme une symphonie d'amour" (1979) (7-inch vinyl France: Disques Espérance ESP 65.009)
  • "Give Me a Reason" / "Africa" (1989) (7-inch vinyl Italy: Philips 875 308-7)
  • "Pata Pata 2000" (2000) (CD Putumayo PUTU 919-S)


Year Title Role Other notes
1960 Come Back, Africa Herself Documentary on the apartheid system of official racial separation in South Africa.
1968 LBJ Voice Cuban anti-imperialist satire/propaganda film directed by Santiago Álvarez
1969 Festival panafricain d'Alger Miriam Makeba
1982 Amok Joséphine Sempala Humgarian film directed by Souheil Ben-Barka.
1991 "Olivia Comes Out of the Closet"
season 8: episode 10 of The Cosby Show
1992 Sarafina! Angelina South African film directed by Darrell Roodt
1996 When We Were Kings Writer and performer ("Am Am Pondo") Documentary film directed by Leon Gast about the heavyweight championship match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaire in 1974
1998 Have You Seen Drum Recently? Herself Directed by Jürgen Schadeberg
2000 Otto: Der Katastrofenfilm Music and lyrics ("Dummasack") German comedy film directed by Edzard Onneken
2002 Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony Herself Documentary film depicting the struggles of black South Africans against the injustices of apartheid through the use of music
2004 Veronica Mars (TV series) Pilot
2005 Transamerica Performer ("Jol'inkomo") Directed by Duncan Tucker
2006 Bobby Performer ("Pata Pata") American drama film directed by Emilio Estevez about Robert F. Kennedy
2007 Joe Strummer: The Future Is Unwritten Performer ("Pata Pata") Documentary film directed by Julien Temple about Joe Strummer
2008 Soul Power Performer ("The Click Song") Documentary film directed by Jeff Levy-Hinte about the Zaire 74 music festival
2011 Mama Africa Herself Documentary film directed by Mika Kaurismäki about Makeba

See also


  1. ^ Francesco Longanella, medical director of the Pineta Grande Clinic, told Reuters that "[Miriam Makeba] arrived [to the Pineta Grande Clinic] at 11:15 pm [of the 9th of November 2008], [but that she was] already dead [...] [we] tried to revive her for three quarters of an hour." (translated from Italian to English)[32]


  1. ^ "Miriam Makeba official website". http://www.miriammakeba.co.za/. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Nkrumah 2001.
  3. ^ Schwarz-Bart 2003, p. 208.
  4. ^ a b c d Kaufman 2006, p. 333.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g AllSands.
  6. ^ Planet, Janet. "Miriam Makeba". Africanmusic.org. http://africanmusic.org/artists/makeba.html. Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  7. ^ Schwarz-Bart 2003, p. 213.
  8. ^ a b Schwarz-Bart 2003, p. 214.
  9. ^ a b c d e Mendiola 2003.
  10. ^ "Venice Film Festival (1959)". Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/event/ev0000681/1959. Retrieved 14 November 2010. 
  11. ^ Bordowitz 2004, p. 246.
  12. ^ Bordowitz 2004, p. 247.
  13. ^ Kaufman 2006, p. 313.
  14. ^ a b c d e Poet 2009, p. 1.
  15. ^ a b c Denselow 2008, p. 15.
  16. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Charts and Awards.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Poet 2009, p. 2.
  18. ^ "Miriam Makeba obituary". The Economist. 13 November 2008. http://www.economist.com/node/12591050?story_id=12591050&fsrc=rss. 
  19. ^ "Miriam Makeba". Answers.com. http://www.answers.com/topic/miriam-makeba?cat=entertainment. Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  20. ^ Weisbrot, Robert (23 November 2003). Ready for Revolution: Book review. New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9903E6DD1438F930A15752C1A9659C8B63&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=all. 
  21. ^ Scott, A.O. (2009-07-10). Music and Musicians Still Echo 35 Years Later. New York Times. http://movies.nytimes.com/2009/07/10/movies/10soul.html. 
  22. ^ Kaufman 2006, p. 314.
  23. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books. p. 427. CN 5585. 
  24. ^ Hollingsowrth, Tony. "Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute". http://tonyhollingsworth.com/index.php?q=content/nelson-mandela-70th-birthday-tribute. Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  25. ^ "1990: Freedom for Nelson Mandela". BBC. 11 February 1990. http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/february/11/newsid_2539000/2539947.stm. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  26. ^ Ormond, Roger (12 February 1990). "Mandela free after 27 years". The Guardian Century (London: The Guardian). http://century.guardian.co.uk/1990-1999/Story/0,,112389,00.html. Retrieved 10 November 2008. 
  27. ^ "Singer Back in South Africa". Associated Press. New York, United States: The New York Times. 11 June 1990. http://www.nytimes.com/1990/06/11/world/singer-back-in-south-africa.html. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 
  28. ^ "Miriam Makeba". Food and Agriculture Organization. http://www.fao.org/getinvolved/ambassadors/ambassadors/ambassadors-miriammakeba/en/. Retrieved 16 September 2009. 
  29. ^ "Makeba Returns With homeland': Putumayo Set Deals With Pain Of Exile, Joy Of Homecoming". Entertainment & Arts > Music Industry. AllBusiness.com. http://www.allbusiness.com/retail-trade/miscellaneous-retail-retail-stores-not/4636792-1.html. Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  30. ^ "43rd Annual Grammy Awards Nominations Coverage" (SHTML). Entertainment. Digital Hit. 2001. http://www.digitalhit.com/grammy/43/nominees.shtml. Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  31. ^ a b Polar Music Prize 2002.
  32. ^ a b "Miriam Makeba muore dopo concerto a Castel Volturno [Miriam Makeba dies after concert in Castel Volturno]" (in Italian). Reuters Italia. 10 November 2008. http://it.reuters.com/article/topNews/idITMIE4A900H20081110. Retrieved 14 November 2010. 
  33. ^ "Singer Miriam Makeba dies aged 76". BBC News. 10 November 2008. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7719056.stm. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  34. ^ "South African singer Miriam Makeba dies in Italy". Agence France-Presse. 10 November 2008. http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5jqkPEaEhnS8oRnbGqmeD2I_Miisg. Retrieved 2008-11-10. 
  35. ^ Chaudhry, Serena (10 November 2008). ""Mama Africa" Miriam Makeba dies after concert". Reuters. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE4A912L20081110. Retrieved 12 November 2010. 
  36. ^ Festival d'Ile de France 2009.
  37. ^ "Mama Africa: Celebrating Miriam Makeba". Music – event detail. Barbican. http://www.barbican.org.uk/music/event-detail.asp?ID=9760. Retrieved 11 November 2010. 


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External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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