Song: "Pata Pata"
Album: Pata Pata
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While one can argue that it occurs with a large number of musicians on a few different levels, there are only a select few musicians who can say their music has changed the world in the most meaningful and deepest sense of the word. Though many might refer to these performers as "once in a generation," it is not quite accurate, as most of them happened to exist in the same time period. However, though many can make the case for having the "most" impact in this manner, it is hard to argue against the overall significance and world-wide change that was a result of the music of the woman known as "Mama Africa," the late, great Miriam Makeba. Not only did Makeba singlehandedly expose the world to African music, but she also helped to expose the injustices of apartheid in her native South Africa. Yet even with her well-known exile from her homeland, it is the music of Miriam Makeba that remains the strongest part of her legend, and even before releasing what stands as her greatest recording, she had already won international acclaim and a number of prestigious awards within the music industry. Then, as psychedelic rock was beginning to take over the world, she released her absolutely phenomenal Pata Pata album in late 1967. The album contains many of her best known songs, and yet there is no song more closely associated with Miriam Makeba than the unforgettable title track of that record.
Musically, one can argue that the progression on "Pata Pata," especially the opening, could be attributed to a number of different genres, and it is this aspect that proves to be the most intriguing part of the song. The simple piano arrangement, quickly blended with an upbeat, catchy musical hook, take on a pop appeal that cannot be denied, and yet it is simultaneously memorable in a manner that is completely unique. Within an era when pop music can be rather easily defined, it is songs like "Pata Pata" that serve as a reminder that truly amazing songs, regardless of background, will always find a way to rise to the top. It is the way in which "Pata Pata" swings back and forth, creating an absolutely irresistible dance groove, that brought the song international acclaim, and even more than forty years after this version was recorded, the song still sounds fresh and as appealing as ever. The song quickly becomes a stunning blend of jazz and dance-style swing, all with a brilliant pop sheen, and the way in which this is all spun into a distinctively African tone makes it one of the most remarkable recordings in all of music history. Whether it is the piano riff, the lone acoustic guitar, or the perfectly placed tambourine, the way in which the sounds come together is pure musical bliss, and once one hears "Pata Pata," it truly cannot be forgotten.
Yet even with the perfectly orchestrated musical arrangement, there is no denying that the true star of the song is the voice and personality of Miriam Makeba herself. Singing in both English, as well as her native tongue, there are few voices in history that are as quickly captivating as hers, and that voice remains unrivaled to this day. Through her singing, it becomes clear that "Pata Pata" is a "dance instruction" song, and yet due to her superb vocal work, the song manages to avoid being cliché or "cheesy" into which most other songs of this type quickly devolve. Working the entire vocal range, Makeba seems to let the song take her where it wants, and it is this unrestrained nature that makes "Pata Pata" even more alluring. As her voice soars across the bridge sections, the overall tension of the song builds to an almost feverish level, and it is in the second half of "Pata Pata" where one can hear the truly cathartic nature of singing, as Makeba seems to have given in completely to the will of the song. Along with her powerful, inviting voice, the lyrics quickly make it clear that this song is about nothing more than having a good time and one can argue that even if one does not understand what she is singing, the mmod she conveys makes the song truly international. In terms of both energy and raw sound, Miriam Makeba's vocal work on "Pata Pata" is second to none, and it is easily one of the greatest vocal moments in all of music history.
Though she had won awards previous to the release of "Pata Pata," the song would quickly become her signature tune, and it managed to move all the way into the top fifteen on the Billboard charts in the U.S. The fact that this completely unique song was able to grab such a high spot was in itself an amazing feat, but that it did so alongside some of the most treasured pop anthems in history makes the accomplishment even more impressive. As the decades have passed, "Pata Pata" has been covered a number of times, but no artist has even come remotely close to the energy and sound achieved by Miriam Makeba. The song becomes instantly unforgettable, and even after hearing it a number of times, it is still impossible to drive the perfectly crafted hook out of your hear. Furthermore, the fact that this does not become a nuisance as many hooks do, serves as a testament to the true beauty and musical perfection that can be found on the track. Combining a samba-like groove with a simple acoustic guitar, a catchy piano hook, and a smattering of African drums and "click," "Pata Pata" is easily one of the most wonderfully perfect songs ever composed. It is her unique ability to transcend cultures via music, along with her absolutely stunning voice that makes Miriam Makeba one of the most important and truly extraordinary performers in music history, and all of her greatness can be experienced within her unforgettable 1967 song, "Pata Pata."