Women’s History Month: Miriam Makeba



In the midst of our “Black History Month, Our Way” article, we experienced unforeseen hiccups that did not allow us to write and publish a piece every day, so we want to approach this article differently. Instead of highlighting a person per day, we’d like to present one special woman per week. It’ll fit into our bustle. When asked to participate in Women’s History Month this year, we thought long and deep about it. We received an email from one of our fans that read:

Hi Richardine,
How are you. I hope that all is well over at Grungecake. I just read the Dilla Day piece and I felt like I was there via the recap. Awesome pic, btw. Are you all doing anything specials for Women’s History Month? If so, please do let me know; I’d love to support.

Miriam Makeba

With a statement like that, how could we pass up the opportunity to learn, encourage and inspire ourselves and fans? We couldn’t. Which brings me to my first Women of the Week, Miriam Makeba. Fittingly so, today is her birthday. She would have been 76-years-old.

Though, I am younger than the generation that experienced Miriam Makeba’s music and activism first hand, I could hear and see how satisfied my family was when she was mentioned at home. I don’t recall hearing much or any music by her — because mom listened to Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel and Rod Stewart — but what I did gather is still inspirational many years later.

Widely known for the universalization of African music in the 1960s, Miriam Makeba is a woman to celebrated not only for her success for acting against the Apartheid in South Africa. Assuming that not all of the readers are aware of what the Apartheid in South Africa was, here’s a short description:

The Apartheid in South Africa was a systematic racial segregation enforced by lawmakers of the land in 1948. Within that new ruling, South African people of many descents were classified into just four racial groups: White, Native, Asian and Coloured. Twenty years later, non-White political parties were abolished and specifically, African natives were deprived of their citizenship and forced to live in self-governed communities. As you can imagine, everything was separated to send the message of inferiority. If you are an American or you are currently living in the United States of America, it is very similar to the slavery that took place on this soil. To further educate yourselves on the Apartheid in South Africa, see the archives on BBC’s website and Wikipedia’s article.

In verso, Makeba was widely recognized after her cameo in “Come Back, Africa”, an anti-apartheid documentary premiered at the Venice Film Festival in Italy. Soon after, with the help of friend Harry Belafonte, she gained access into the United States of America where she was first televised on “The Steve Allen Show.” Beyond her talents, what makes her so admirable to me is the notion of not wearing makeup or curling her hair for public appearances. She showcased the natural talent and natural beauty.

In fact, she is the trendsetter credited for the “Afro look.” Rhetorically stated, how amazing is that? Growing up, I remember seeing and holding a large photograph of my mother. She wore an Afro, plum-coloured lipstick and a black top against a powder blue background. Thank you, miss Makeba. Your style was so influential in the United States during the late 60s. I am sure you contributed to my existence somehow, someway. Mama was breathtaking!

On the unethical ends of things, when she tried to attend her mother’s funeral at home, she learned that her passport was cancelled. She was not allowed entry into her country. In spite of that event, she became a citizen of the world. Countries like Guinea, Ghana and Belgium issued her international passports. She had nine passports and she was given honorary citizenship in ten countries. We can imagine that, in itself, is a huge honor but there’s truly no place like home. I believe the prior statement is evident in the quote below:

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.

Without listing all of her achievements and sticking to what we believe makes her our Woman of the Week, we want you to celebrate Miriam Makeba as much as you can by playing her music, talking about her to your children, family and friends and reading her biography aloud in front of a crowd.

Today, Google honoured her with a doodle on their homepage.

Google doodle of Miriam Makeba