Happy Birthday, Miriam Makeba!

South Africa’s great singer Miriam Makeba – Mama Africa – would have been 84 today.

The singer famous for “Pata Pata” and numerous other songs and for being one of the most public opponents of apartheid on the world stage was born in Johannesburg in 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma and her father died when she was still young.

Well before Makeba burned up the stage in Stockholm in a memorable performance in 1966, she was internationally known. She had gained fame in the jazz musical “King Kong” that started in Johannesburg in 1959 and transferred to the West End of London. In it she played a shebeen queen in Sophiatown.

“Pata Pata” was written by fellow Southern African artist Dorothy Masuka and first released by Makeba in 1957. It means “touch touch” in Xhosa.


Makeba had her passport taken away from her by the National Party government in the 1960s and never returned. She only came back again in 1990, on Nelson Mandela’s request, after his release from prison.

She married fellow South African musician Hugh Masekela, though they stayed married only two years. Later she wed the radical Black Panther movement leader Stokely Carmichael, and they moved to the West African country Guinea, where they lived for 15 years.

Makeba died in Italy in 2008. She was performing at a concert and had a heart attack on stage, after singing her classic, “Pata Pata”.

Watch Makeba sing “Pata Pata” in a recording that was probably from 1967.