Once called the “world’s most defiantly joyful song”, Miriam Makeba’s ‘Pata Pata’ (meaning “touch”) has been re-recorded by UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Angélique Kidjo, to spread information and hope in a time of Coronavirus.
Without any alteration to chords or syllables, though with several changes to the lyrics, ‘Pata Pata’ will be re-released by UNICEF across the globe this Thursday, more than 50 years since the international smash hit first took the world by storm. It does so with full copyright approval.
Nicknamed ‘Mama Africa’, Miriam Makeba was a South African singer and songwriter. She was a United Nations goodwill ambassador who worked on hunger, HIV and domestic violence, as well as a civil rights activist. Makeba was among the first African musicians to receive worldwide recognition, winning a Grammy in 1965, performing from Johanesburg to New York; Lagos to London. She was both a friend and a mentor to Kidjo.
Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer-herbalist). Her father, who died when she was six years old, was a Xhosa. When she was eighteen days old, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African homemade beer distilled from malt and cornmeal. Her mother was sentenced to a six-month prison term, so Miriam spent her first six months of life in jail.
As a child, she sang in the choir of the Kilmerton Training Institute’ in Pretoria, a primary school that she attended for eight years. Her professional career began in the 1950s when she was featured in the South African jazz group the Manhattan Brothers, and appeared for the first time on a poster. She left the Manhattan Brothers to record with her all-woman group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa. As early as 1956, she released the single for “Pata Pata”. The single was played on all the radio stations and made her known throughout all of South Africa. Though she was a successful recording artist, she was only receiving a few dollars for each recording session and no provisional royalties, and was keen to leave home
Mama Africa was a vocal anti-apartheid activist and exiled as an opponent of apartheid. The Apartheid Government revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she traveled abroad. She was prevented from attending her mother’s funeral after touring in the United States. (New York Times coverage upon her death HERE.)
‘Pata Pata’ literally means ‘touch touch’ in Xhosa. The modified version sung by Kidjo includes lines such as: It’s a time to “Sit it out!” This is ‘no-pata-pata… Stay at home and wait it out …..We need to keep our hands clean ….So ‘no-pata pata’…Don’t touch your face, keep distance please.
This new version of ‘Pata Pata’ will be free to use (link below). The public is encouraged to submit videos of themselves dancing to ‘Pata-Pata’ by tagging @1unicefafrica on TikTok or @unicefafrica on Instagram with #nopatapata and #healthyathome. The best dance clips will be included in a music video to be released in mid May.
The song has particular resonance for Kidjo whose friend, Afro-Jazz icon Manu Dibango, died earlier this month from Coronavirus. “Manu inspired me. Miriam inspired me. And Pata Pata gave me hope,” said Kidjo. “We all know what needs to be done, but we also know how much communities are suffering. Pata Pata has always been there for people at a time of struggle. I hope it helps once more. And I hope from our confined spaces we can dance once more.”
HOWEVER after listening to the Kidjo COVID-19 version – and as a kid raised in South Africa with the original song, I feel NOTHING can ever do justice Mama Africa’s original version which includes authentic Xhosa Clicks –
PLEASE watch Makeba’s version too PLEASE HERE.
AND More by Makeba HERE: Miriam Makeba – The Retreat Song (Jikele Maweni) LIVE Graceland Concert)- after returning from exile…
MAkeba saying goodbye – heart wrenching: HERE
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