The original meaning of a ‘Shebeen’ is a place where alcoholic beverages were sold without a license. In African traditions the assignment of alcohol brewing was given to the women, so in keeping with tradition, many shebeen’s were operated by women who were called: Shebeen Queens.
The Shebeen Queens would sell their homebrewed / home-distilled alcohol in their own house or property. The brew was often referred to as ‘devil’s water’ due to it’s very high alcohol percentage and bad taste. The Shebeens provided music and dancing, which helped give rise to the musical sensations Miriam Makeba and offered patrons with a place to meet and discuss social and political issues. In the apartheid era, group gatherings were illegal and often the police would raid these venues and arrest owners and patrons.