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Before “world music” experimenters like Peter Gabriel, David Byrne, and Paul Simon incorporated explicitly African sounds into western popular music, there was Miriam Makeba, a South African singer who had her biggest hit in the US in 1967 with “Pata Pata.” It reached #12 on the Billboard Top 100.

Makeba wrote the song with another South African singer-songwriter, Rhodesia-born Dorothy Masuka. Both were civil rights activists and were exiled for it for decades. Makeba suffered a second exile: having come to the United States (helped by Harry Belafonte), appeared on the Steve Allen Show, signed a recording contract here, and made hit records, she became too controversial for American record companies upon her marriage to Stokely Carmichael. They canceled her contracts and the couple moved to the Republic of Guinea.

She was born on this day in 1932 and died in 2008.


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