In my early 20s I read her autobiography and I understood, as much as you can from a book, revolution from a women’s perspective. The fight, the reasons for sacrifice, knowing your history and not accepting your 2nd class status as a woman within the patriarchal state, your political affiliations ie; Black Panthers or friendship groups. She was proud of her hair, who she chose to be and the skin she was in. To me she was proud, intelligent, unapologetic and trying to affect change for all.
When I think about who I’m most inspired by, not just a single name comes to mind. I could start with Mariah Carey, because as a child I idolised her, connected with her story of being mixed race and poor, and felt moved by the positive affirmations in her song lyrics, and who I still turn to now when I need a boost. In my early twenties, it was my late Mum whose lessons lingered long after her death, teaching me how to be a woman by not making the same mistakes as her. Then it became Beyoncé, who showed me what it meant to embrace femininity and be unapologetically fabulous, despite being urged by society to be a humble mother and wife. And now? Now I remain inspired by inspirational superstars, by the women I’m surrounded by and in contact with, the real everyday women, without photoshop, with flaws and failures, with nothing but love to give, dreams to build, a purpose to fill and children to raise. The women who get up each day and fulfil the expectations of their roles, even though they don’t feel like it. Who encourage others, who help those who need them the most with no expectations, who battle mental health daily so that they can be the women they were always destined to be. The women who wanted to give up so many times, but didn’t. These sisters inspire me the most.
As a mother, she inspires me, as a daughter and friend, she inspires me, but most of all for the sheer capacity, beauty and strength of womanhood which she embodies, she is a true inspiration.
I’ve seen her break her own heart by making the right, and not the easy choice in love. I’ve witnessed her face her shortcomings with the courage of a lion and own them, seek support, improve. Our conversations though maybe only quarterly, are fuel. We feed each other, honestly, directly and I cherish them.
It would have to be both My Grandmothers for their strength and resilience.
I remember experiencing the late, great Miriam Makeba for the first time. It was during the screening of Paul Simon’s Graceland Concert, back in 1987, before the release of Nelson Mandela and when I was…very, very young. The whole family was sat around the television – mum, dad, one of my brothers (the other one hadn’t yet been conceived – gross), my sister and I, transfixed on this celebration of the music of a South Africa that was still very much divided under apartheid, unfolding before our very eyes. Miriam came on and sang Jikele Maweni (The Retreat Song), Soweto Blues and Under African Skies and I was instantly obsessed. Kai! Her voice! Her emotion! That headwrap! Those clicks! I had a soft spot for South African music anyway (my parents had a few records from back in the day that they would play on repeat), but seeing it performed live blew my mind. A few years later, I heard her version of Mas Que Nada and fell in love with her all over again. It still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it…
Back then, I had no idea that this phenomenal woman had already been instrumental, not only in the anti-apartheid movement, but also in the US Civil Rights movement, performing for the Pope and for President Kennedy in Madison Square Gardens, becoming the first black woman to achieve a Top Ten worldwide hit record and winning a casual Grammy along the way. The power of music is strong. If only more of the artists of today recognised and respected that power… *sigh* Miriam was seminal in popularising the wonderful music of South Africa across the world. Miriam demonstrated, against all odds, the strength of a woman. Thank you, Miriam. Thank you, Mama Africa.
Who would you add to this list? Which women are in your inspirational Hall of Fame? Who do you think of when you need the motivation to keep going?