Nostalgia tends to lend things a touch of melancholy. Even happy memories. Simply because those days are gone. If not completely lost. But hearing Miriam Makeba`s Pata Pata always makes me smile. It has me remembering dancing high in `89, at countless balearic / acid house parties. The record and I, both spinning. The last tune of the night as the lights came on. I had no idea who the artist was, who was singing – though I could guess the name of the song.
Then I bought a copy of a compilation called Ethno-Beats, from Trax on Greek Street in London’s Soho. Pulled it out of a rack labelled “Balearic” in a shop packed with hi-energy. It was a budget thing, put together by German label BCM. I bought it because it included Jasper Van Hoft`s Pili Pili. Another big end-of-the-night tune. But once I got it home I realized the record was bursting its seams with balearic blockbusters: Tony Allen’s N.E.P.A.; Code 61`s Drop The Deal; Cultural Vibe`s Ma Foom Bey; Ofra Haza`s Im Nin’Alu; Jhalib`s Mysteries Of The East; Kinkina`s Jungle Fever; Monsoon`s Ever So Lonely; Richard Strange`s Damascus; The Unknown Cases` Ma Simba Belle. Plus Miriam`s Pata Pata.
I figured every DJ I`d heard must have a copy, because all these tracks got rinsed every time I went out. Released in 1988 the comp was cashing-in on something, but I’m still not sure what. Complier Dieter Stemmer was either a super clued-up Ibiza / Amnesia veteran – or a Cosmic Club aficionado – or a AB Musique / Liaisons Dangereuses radio show fan. Between Ethno-Beats, Balearic Beats Vol. 1, and the House Hallucinates compilation, I had my own rave sorted.
Stemmer took Pata Pata from Miriam`s 1967 LP of the same name, now reissued as a deluxe stereo & mono recording double-pack by Strut. Originally issued by Reprise – the New York label founded by Frank Sinatra – it made Miriam the most famous South African in America. Miriam`s fame in turn alerting the world to the injustices of her homeland`s apartheid regime.
Described by its singer as “lightweight fluff” Pata Pata was first written and recorded in the `50s, when Makeba was a protege of Harry Belafonte. The two appeared on numerous popular duets, and it was Belafonte who helped Miriam to leave Johannesburg. But in the U.S. the singer became increasingly politicized. Prompted in no small part by the 1960 Sharpsville Massacre – carried out by South African police – in which Makeba lost family members.
Using her position in the public eye, she spoke out. Not just about the racial inequality of her own country, but also the parallels she saw in The States. Segregation and the Jim Crow laws. Resulting in South Africa banning Makeba`s music, and revoking her passport – making her an exile. She became actively involved in the American Civil Rights movement. Becoming friends with Nina Simone, and marrying the “Honorary Prime Minister” of the Black Panther Party, Stokely Carmichael. The FBI and CIA`s targeting of the couple – along with Carmichael`s falling out with The Panthers – forced them to flee the U.S., to Guinea, in the late 60s.
Ousted from her homeland, and her adopted home, Makeba remained outspoken and her songs confrontational. Soweto Blues, for example, written by her former husband, Hugh Masekela, after the 1976 Soweto student uprising.
Pata Pata means “touch, touch” in Xhosa, the language of the people born in the southeast of South Africa. Jerry Ragovoy produced the hit recording. A songwriter who’d written Time Is On My Side for The Rolling Stones and Piece Of My Heart – made famous by Janis Joplin – for Erma Franklin. Ragovoy fixing Miriam`s incredible vocal to a rolling piano.
During that Second Summer Of Love – one that extended through 88 and 89 – when we`d dance whole nights together to gospel-influenced Chicago house – music calling for racial understanding, equality, and unity – the Xhosa lyric, impossibly upbeat – seemed all the more impossible – when the English narration revealed that it came from Johannesburg.
Pata Pata might be “lightweight fluff” but for me it still carries such a funky feeling of optimism.
You can order a copy of the deluxe stereo / mono double-pack reissue of Miriam Makeba`s Pata Pata directly from Strut.