Even a year ago, at age 75 (above), Miriam Makeba–who died yesterday shortly after a concert–was still shaking her South African groove thang. I own the vinyl of her album Pata Pata, from which the big-hit title song came. The 1960s were certainly an odd time on the Top 40–we had the usual American pop and soul and bubblegum fare, but an occasional foreign oddity (“Dominique” by Belgian nun Soeur Sourire, “Sukiyaki” by Japan’s Kyu Sakamoto and, yes, Makeba’s “Pata Pata”) snuck in.
I’m still, 45-some years later, trying to reproduce the Xhosa language “click” sound that peppered Makeba’s songs. She will always be remembered for bringing South African sounds to this country, for her great voice and captivating spirit, and for her surprising marriage to American black radical Stokely Carmichael (she was earlier married to that other famed South African musician, trumpeter Hugh Masekela).
Laura had to be aware of Makeba, was probably a fan, but I forgot until I googled their names together that I even mentioned Makeba in my Nyro bio! She’s in a footnote, because my Laura Nyro scholar buddy Patricia Rudden suggested to me that Makeba had multitracked her voice on an album before Laura did. An even stronger Nyro-Makeba connection is Milt Okun, who not only produced Laura’s debut album, More Than A New Discovery, but in 1960 produced Makeba’s debut, Miriam Makeba.
An anti-apartheid activist who was exiled from her homeland for decades, Miriam at least stayed around just long enough to know that America had finally ended our own form of apartheid last week. …