Miriam Makeba is the most iconic female African musician of the 20th century. Documented in myriad songs, books and films, the narrative of her life is defined by her indelible contribution to African music and outspoken opposition to the Apartheid regime. Inevitably Makeba also became the first global ambassador for Africa's pronounced fashion culture.
Through her music, Makeba introduced Swahili, Xhosa, Zulu and Sotho to the West when she arrived in New York in the 50s. Dressed in embroidered boubous and Zulu isicholo hats, Mama Africa stood out against her contemporaries for her individualistic approach to personal presentation, whilst always honoring her African heritage. She never wore make-up and liked to keep her appearance natural. "I see other black women imitating my style, which is no style at all but just letting our hair be itself. They call it the Afro look, said Makeba. She collected accessories during her extensive travels through Guinea, Zaire, Kenya, Ghana, Mali and Zimbabwe, and these talismans became a visual narrative of her journey. Whether she was performing for President Kennedy or addressing the UN Assembly in protest against Apartheid, Makeba accented her appearance with ornaments from her beloved Africa that sparkled as much as her eloquent deliveries.
For over 30 years Makeba was exiled from her birth country South Africa for a very public stand against the Apartheid movement. In that time, she was offered honorary citizenships in 10 countries across Europe and Africa. Makeba was as much a pioneer as she was a rebel, and her legend continues to spread one simple message: Africa is beautiful.
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