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"Pata Pata" by Miriam Makeba and the Insane Range of Her Music Catalogue


Miriam Makeba (1932 - 2008) — affectionately referred to as Mama Africa and The Empress of African Song — was a South African activist, singer, songwriter, actress, and the first African ever to win a Grammy. The performer was associated with a number of genres, including jazz and world music, but it was her Afro-pop material — and "Pata Pata" in particular — that made her an international star.

Depending on the source, the track was originally recorded either in 1956 or 1959 by Makeba's girl group, The Skylarks. But, in 1967, when Makeba had already established herself as a successful singer in the United States, she re-recorded "Pata Pata" with famous songwriter and producer Jerry Ragovoy (1930 - 2011) and added in an English-spoken part. The song peaked at #12 on the Billboard chart that same year.

Miriam Makeba (1969)
Miriam Makeba (1969)

Meaning “Touch Touch” in Xhosa, one of the official languages of South Africa and Zimbabwe, “Pata Pata” is also the name of a dance style that was popular at local unlicensed establishments called shebeens of Johannesburg's Townships in the mid-1950s.

Makeba performed at venues like these since she was a youngster. According to Peter Freyer writing for the New Internationalist in 1981:

“In one scene, as shebeen queen of the 'Back of the Moon' shebeen, she stood absolutely still, back to the audience, white dress marking every inch of her superb body. The tsotsis on stage — small time criminals, drinkers, gamblers, dancers — stood equally transfixed. Everyone waited for the cue. It came at last, with the Matshikiza sound of the kwela* as Miriam swung into her dance, the song, and turned slowly to face her audience, who rocked and swayed with her.”

One version of the dance has the male dancer crouch before his partner and pat her body to the rhythm of the music as he rises up and she spins around, making hip circles. In another version, the male dancers stand in a row with their arms extended out to the front, palms to the floor, while the women pat each male (in a manner resembling body-frisking), after which the men do the same to the women. And, in an entirely different interpretation of the dance, the focus is placed on choreography.

But the dance was probably not the sole inspiration for the title. Makeba’s "Pata Pata" melody was based on an instrumental track called "Phatha Phatha" by Shumi Ntutu and Isaac Nkosi, who based the first eight bars of their version on a 1941 "song entitled ‘Noma Kumnyama (Zulu: ‘Even If It's Dark’) by the Dundee Wandering Singers, an mbube group led by Alson Novemu Mkhize.”

On the night of her passing, Miriam Makeba performed "Pata Pata" just before she collapsed on stage.

“Pata Pata”

Featuring English Lyrics

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 way 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

Other Songs by Miriam Makeba

"Kulala" by Miriam Makeba

"Qongqothwane," or "The Click Song" by Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba - Oxgam (LIVE)

Feature Stories

VOL. 22 


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