An Enduring Legacy: Zenzile Miriam Makeba

“The first African to become an international star”

Having grown up in a household where music always echoed through the speakers, Miriam Makeba’s sound always stood out. My grandmother familiarized me with her music (as well as that of Brenda Fassie and Letta Mbulu). I associate her sound with indescribable nostalgia.

Known to many as the eponymous queen of African jazz and pop, who brought African music to the rest of the world. With hits like Pata Pata, Click Song, Malaika, We are Going and more , Miriam Makeba was and truly is one of a kind, an enigma, effortlessly floating through multiple genres whilst still being rooted in her Sophiatown upbringing. The Afropop jazz singer was not only an internationally renowned phenome, with a Grammy Award and a starring role in King Kong to add to her list of accolades, she was also an activist(sent to prison to prison for the first time at age 18) and a goodwill ambassador who used her stature who took a vocal stance on Apartheid.

At the height of Apartheid, while still in exile, during the 1970s and onwards, she became more deliberate in terms of the subject of her songs, releasing Soweto Blues in 1977, a about the Soweto Uprising and A Piece of Ground, about black land displacement, songs that solidified her activism.

Beginning her career in the 1950s, Mam’ Miriam won the world over with her contemporary African jazz sound and her style! Who can forget the ICONIC Drum Magazine cover shot in 1974? DRUM Magazine, edited by Sam Nhlengethwa, was the people’s magazine and really captured the emerging creative zeitgeist amongst African artists at the time – also a notable piece of archival work.

Mam’ Miriam’s natural talent, bold style and outspoken voice took her to incredible heights, performing in New York, Venice, London, sharing stages with artists such as Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillesipie and Nina Simone – talk about black girl magic.

Enjoy below images of Mama Africa, and a link to the documentary here.


Creative Visual Expressionist.