Thursday, September 13, 2012

Miriam Makeba: Pata Pata (1967)

I'd be surprised if you have head this song in the last 20 years.

Well before Paul Simon, South African Miriam Makeba popularized African music in the United States.  She was a talented artist known for her singing and songcraft. She carried the nickname "Mama Africa" and "The Empress of African Song" as well.  Miriam was one of the first entertainers to speak out against apartheid, a system which institutionalized racial discrimination in her country in 1948.

Despite having to live in such a prohibitive society, she was able to join a number of local bands and began to tour. This would eventually lead her to the United States, where her outspoken demeanor and beautiful voice soon had her meeting and singing before the rich and famous. By then, Miriam was banned from South Africa, an exile that would last 30 years.

"Pata Pata" was originally sung and recorded by her girl group The Skylarks and released in 1957. It was finally released in the U.S. in 1967, and peaked at #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 that year. The tempo has more of a 60's feel than the 50's.

"Pata Pata" (Touch Touch) was written in the Xhosa language which includes click consonants. The rise and fall of vocal inflections can change a words meaning. Though I have yet to find a good translation of the songs lyrics, suffice it to say the story is about releasing energy after another week of being suppressed and finding romance at the local dance. One might compare it to the crowd energy that was found at a juke joint in the deep south.

Five marriages included her first husband, who left her three minutes after she gave birth at 17, three years with trumpeter Hugh Masekela, ("Grazin' in the Grass," 1968), and a controversial marriage to Black Panther leader Stokely Carmichael, which alienated her from her white following in the U.S. This would see her banned from several European countries.

She was able to return to South Africa after the fall of apartheid and was well received, but younger South Africans had little knowledge of her.

She had a heart attack after performing "Pata Pata" at a demonstration concert in Italy at the age of 76. A truly remarkable woman...

UPDATE 1/18/15
We kept digging and found a WordPress blog that had the lyrics in Xhosa, followed by a partial translation:


Pata Pata
(Miriam Makeba)
Saguquka sathi ‘bheka’
Nants’ iPata Pata
Saguquka sathi ‘bheka’
Nants’ iPata Pata
Yiyo mama, yiyo mama
Nants’ iPata Pata
Yiyo mama, yiyo mama
Nants’ iPata Pata
Pata Pata is the name of the dance
We do down Johannesburg where
And everybody starts to move
As soon as Pata Pata starts to play
Saguquka sathi ‘bheka’
Nants’ iPata Pata
Saguquka sathi ‘bheka’
Nants’ iPata Pata
Yiyo mama, yiyo mama
Nants’ iPata Pata
Yiyo mama, yiyo mama
Nants’ iPata Pata
Every Friday and Saturday Night
It’s Pata Pata time!
The dance keeps going all night long
Til’ the morning sun begins to shine!
 
[English Meaning]:
So we grooved and said ‘check it out!’
(This is the Pata Pata…)
That’s it, lady
(This is the Pata Pata…)
-
[Some Literal translations]:
Pata Pata – Hold/carry (in this sense, to hold or touch suggestively)
Saguquka – We turned around/changed (in this sense, to groove)
Sathi – We said
Bheka – Look
Yiyo – That’s the one/that’s it
Nantsi This is (it)/Here (it) is