MAKEBA: Personifying The Alchemy Of The Black Woman

I was born third a Nubian.

A Maassai, I am the one they call MAKEBA.

Walking these township streets as though diamonds lay at my feet.

Gliding on gravel from the ghetto to Greece,

Leaving behind a fragrance so sweet.

Queen Mother & Reaorata Mashaba – excerpt from their poem, MAKEBA

As the years have gone by, black women continue to have the most riveting stories to tell about their successes and setbacks within our modern society. In fact, black women are becoming more vocal about their needs, opinions and experiences within our economy and how it views them. 

With the history of the black woman being archived for decades and rewritten for eons, it was only time until these ladies and their allies took it upon themselves to reassert their presence within a society that covertly oppresses their narrative. In a creative effort to amplify the voices and hidden tales surrounding women of colour, South African artist, Rabatho (RL) Laka created a collaborative art piece dedicated to the stories behind the black woman through his piece entitled, MAKEBA.

“Ma” meaning Mother and “Keba” meaning brilliant in Swahili, seeks to unpack the story, history and spiritual alchemy behind the black woman while simultaneously encouraging black women to continue to (re)discover the “MAKEBA” within themselves.

“The MAKEBA experience aims to empower minds by acknowledging the significance of the black female more inclusively in our society,” states RL. “Black women are God – meaning there is a MAKEBA at the core of every lady. This collaborative experience therefore aims to empower the minds of others and challenge the discourse of repression. A discourse that has been asserted by a non-inclusive society established from the past.”

RL was initially inspired by Robert Glasper’s album Black Radio III – which is an immersive musical experience that dives into the need for community and renewal. From here, he was able to translate his audible inspiration onto paper (or should we say screen).

MAKEBA is a digitally hand drawn piece made with a collaborative effort to empower minds by embracing the spiritual sentiment that black women encompass. It is an ode to them in a world that marginalises them. This piece honours them as spiritual beings; the originators of man; the Mothers of the Universe (aka ‘inkosazana’).

By highlighting the importance of the black woman through this piece, it also sets ground to discuss the prejudice that these ladies continue to experience within our westernised society. Whether it be a history book, inclusions in academic studies or simply being credited for their work, black women continue to be erased from monumental stories that impact our civilisation. In fact, should these ladies get one foot into the door, countless other obstacles have been put in place to keep their success to a minimum.

For example, while black women in South Africa acquire more undergraduate degrees than any other race in the country, they are also the most underrepresented group when wishing to acquire more senior/managerial roles in academia. Another example of oppressed narratives is evident in the absence of black female voices and research in the early times of Women Studies. Yes, powerful leaders such as Winnie Mandela, Albertina Sisulu and Sibongile Khumalo are mentioned and honoured as the years have gone by. However, these veterans continue to be honourable mentions in the mainstream narrative of this country and are not as celebrated as leaders like Steve Biko, Oliver Reginald Kaizana Tambo or Nelson Mandela.

It was therefore through this collective that RL was able to maximise the message behind this piece through poetry in collaboration with poets Queen Mother & Reaorata Mashaba, music production next to Thato (Aule Whan) Simelane and creative direction with Audrey (Audrey is Shona) Nyamucherea. In one of the creative drops under the MAKEBA experience, RL and the collective were able to highlight the importance around black women particularly from the male perspective – which is meant to emphasise how imperative it is for men to acknowledge the cultural climate and importance of the black woman in the present times.

“There’s just something mystical about experiencing life as a woman that draws out passion in our tears, strength in our hope, and an unworldly love that defies sense. You see it in the storylines of female characters in every book, song, and script,” highlights Mashaba. “What makes MAKEBA different in my eyes is its courage to personify women not as they are seen, but as they have proven themselves to be for generations: infinite creators, waymakers, gods. Eish, it is a true pleasure and privilege to be a part of the incredible team of artists behind this treasure.”

As this art experience progresses, the collective aspires to not only reveal more truths around the black woman, but to also encourage sisters to uncover the god within themselves. In fact, ladies across the globe have already taken it upon themselves to amplify their own chronicles. The MAKEBA collective only wishes to augment these stories further – not only for trailblazers now, but for those of the future.

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