Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Miriam Makeba has a right, and maybe she is right. Returning to South Africa after 30 years of exile to cut her third post-Paul Simon album, Eyes on Tomorrow (Mercury), the apartheid-fighting singer called in Johannesburg's slickest studio musicians. So where its two predecessors revamped South African folk forms, the new one is attempted pop that leans on the slightly jived-up fusion favored by Soweto jazz players. In a liberated nation of upwardly mobile blacks, these synth-cushioned protest hymns about peace and birds and tomorrow could conceivably sound like the future. But to this apartheid-hating white man in jaded America, they're the weakest kind of schlock--the tasteful kind.

Zimbabwe-born Dorothy Masuka came up with Makeba in the black Jo'burg musical-comedy revues of the Fifties. Building on the simpler South African jazz styles of the time, she gradually evolved a style for which she revived the term marabi, once an all-encompassing name for syncretic African shebeen music. Makeba's 1967 U.S. hit Pata Pata was originally a South African hit for Masuka, and it's also the title of Masuka's new Mango album. Its swinging rhythms and primary colors modernized with hooks lifted from Zimbabwean chimurenga, Pata Pata's style is direct and tuneful, often drawing on South Africa's catchiest idiomatic melodies. In Soweto, Masuka may still seem old hat, but here in jaded America, she's fresher than fusion--natural pop fetching enough to cross any language barrier.

Playboy, June 1991


May 1991 July 1991