Miriam Makeba, Pata Pata, Reprise RS-6274, 1967
There is a world of possibilities waiting for a vinyl collector in the world music bins. Sure, you’ll find some junk, but you’ll also find some incredible experiences that you might not ever find out about any other way. I think most people know about The Beatles struggles-as an English speaking group no less- to be taken seriously in the US, so imagine how incredible a non English speaking international recording star had to be to even get a record release in this country. They would have to be well established and yet still able to create new music. It would be one thing to perform in a language somewhat familiar to Americans like French, Italian, or Portuguese, but it would be miraculous for a record sung in the Southern African language of Xhosa to catch on. Yet here one is.
It’s just a real shame that an artist with the stature of Miriam Makeba was subjected to the liner notes that Reprise came up with to sell this record. “Mama Africa”, her unofficial nickname given to her by an adoring continent would probably be surprised to know that she was “as splashy as Victoria Falls”. Still, it probably wasn’t as hard to overcome as growing up in poverty in Apartheid in South Africa. On her own since she was a young teen, it was a fortuitous meeting in London with Harry Belafonte in 1959 that led her to international fame, even though she never set foot in her homeland until the 1990s. Along the way, she became a leading voice for the struggles of black South Africans and performed around the world spreading the message.
This was by far her biggest hit in the US. While there are horns, a big beat, and amazing background singers, this is not an R&B or Soul record. Xhosa is indecipherable to understand a word of, but its clicking sounds and vocal pops create an incredible rhythm. It’s both foreign and familiar in a way, and a real joy to listen to. Almost every decent record store has an international section, and I’ve found some very interesting things in those bins. And they are much cheaper than international travel.
Cost: $6, $26 Remaining