The music industry has always risen to the occasion in times of global crisis and the current Covid-19 pandemic may have caused the deaths of some notable stars, disrupted tours, concerts and release schedules, but musicians are picking themselves up and creatively responding to the situation.
One of Africa’s most influential singers, Angelique Kidjo has released a version of perhaps the most successful song to ever be released by an African artist, “Pata Pata”, to create awareness about the pandemic and in her own inimitable way, to inspire the world to reflect on better days ahead.
“Since this song is known all over the world, it will help inform people to wash their hands, maintain social distancing and to avoid touching their faces,” says Kidjo who is originally from Benin.
The choice of “Pata Pata” is significant not just because of its timeless familiarity but also the irony of the song’s title that literally means “touch touch” in the Xhosa language.
The song was originally recorded by Miriam Makeba as part of the all-female group The Skylarks in 1959 and almost a decade later after establishing herself in the U.S, she re-recorded the song, produced by the American Jerry Ragovoy.
That version was a Top 20 hit in the U.S pop charts in 1967 and upon her return back to South Africa after 30 years in exile, Makeba recorded a dance version called “Pata Pata 2000” on her album “Homeland” a celebration of the end of apartheid.
Kidjo says the rhythm of the song may be upbeat and positive but the message she wants to convey is that people should take precaution against Covid-19 infection now and there will soon be a lot more time to touch, hug, and to celebrate.
She suffered the effects of the pandemic in a very personal way after losing her father in law and her friend and music collaborator, the Cameroonian saxophonist Manu Dibango, to the disease in the last one month.
Kidjo had been rehearsing with Dibango at his house in Paris for a series of concerts called “Perspectives” that was curated to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Independence of Benin and other West African countries and her own 60th birthday this year.
Just after his death she posted a video of the two along with other musicians rehearsing the classic rumba song “Independence Cha Cha” that had been chosen as the centerpiece of the show.
The four-time Grammy Award winner who is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador uses the song to pay homage to her idol Miriam Makeba, the South African singer and activist, whose version of “Pata Pata” was released 50 years ago.
Incidentally, Makeba, too was a UN Goodwill Ambassador who championed various social and political causes including the fight against the apartheid system to the anti-HIV campaign
“Manu inspired me. Miriam inspired me. And Pata Pata gave me hope,” says Kidjo. “We all know what needs to be done, but we also know how communities are suffering. Pata Pata has always been there for people at a time of struggle. I hope it helps once more. And I hope it helps once more. And I hope from our confined spaces we can dance once more.”
She says as an African she chooses to use the term physical, not social distance, because in her words “social distancing means we can’t live together anymore”
Kidjo recorded “Pata Pata” at her home studio in Paris by remaining true to its original rhythm though changing the lyrics. She includes lyrics like “This is no pata-pata…stay at home and wait it out…We need to keep our hands clean…Don’t touch your face, keep your distance please.”
People across the world are invited to be part of the song by posting videos on social media of themselves dancing along to the song. The best dance clips will be included in the official music video to be released mid-May.
The current pandemic may have disrupted what was already a packed diary for Angelique Kidjo who earlier in the year won her fourth Grammy Award for her album “Celia” but it has also fortuitously afforded her a break from her frantic schedule that she had planned for 2021.