Miriam Makeba or, “Mama Africa” as she is affectionately referred to, is one of the
most influential African singers who in the 1960s put African music on the map. Born inJohannesburg, South Africa in 1932,
Miriam lived a modest life. She moved to Riverside, Pretoria with her
Grandmother after her father died. It was here that she began to sing and discovered
that it was her passion.
Makeba began her musical career by singing in her cousin’s band, named the Cuban
Brothers. She left the Cuban brothers in 1954 and began to sing with the
Manhattan Brothers. It was with this band that she built her reputation. She
toured many places with the Manhattan Brother’s including South Africa,
Zimbabwe, and Congo. In 1957 Makeba left the Manhattan Brother’s and joined an
all-women’s singing group named the Skylarks that combined jazz and traditional
African melodies. She also had appearances in the films Come Back Africa (1957) and also held the female lead in Todd Matshikiza’s King Kong (1964).
Scene from Come Back Africa
Makeba would later marry Hugh Maskela, her King Kong co-star in 1964. The South
African Authorities revoked her passport not allowing her to come back to South
Africa because of the negative attention they received from Come Back Africa. She then moved to the U.S. where she became a star virtually overnight.
One of Makeba’s most popular songs was “Pata Pata.” She originally wrote the song in 1957 in Johannesburg, but did not actually record it until 1967 when she lived in the
U.S. “Pata Pata” climbed to No.12 on the music charts, which was how Makeba put Africa on the international map. This song is a great example of how two cultures can work together in perfect harmony. There’s the catchy tune that Americans love while still having a very strong African influence. The first evidence that there is a strong African
influence is the language Makeba is singing in. The second would be the rhythm that the percussion is playing. There is also a strong emphasis on context, as
Makeba repeats the saying multiple times throughout the song. Antiphony is also
being used as the background singers echo her. “Pata Pata” is actually an old
folk dance and the song is written in Xhosa language. It is translated to mean
“touch touch” and is performed either sitting or standing. The dance steps were
created in Johannesburg and are usually performed as a celebration of life. Her
song soon became popular in night clubs and social gatherings all around the
world. Makeba was the first black woman to have a Top-Ten world-wide hit in
1967, thanks to “Pata Pata.”
Makeba Performing and dancing to “Pata Pata”
“History of the Folk Dance “Pata
Pata”” Www.ehow.com. Demand Media Inc, 2012. Web. 17 Sept.
“Miriam Makeba.” South African History Online. South African History Online, 11 Aug. 2009. Web. 17 Sept.2012.