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Apology to Hugh Masekela

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My Apology to Hugh Masekela: He and Larry Willis gave the performance of a lifetime at the Dakota

Insight News
Harry Colbert Jr

I take great pride in being a journalist.

I recognize the true honor bestowed upon me. I strive every day to be truthful, thoughtful and accurate and maintain the public’s trust. It’s a weighty

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job. Yes, in the past I have erred. I’ve left off a period at the end of a sentence here or there. I have missed a word that should have been capitalized – forgot to add an apostrophe … nothing major, but errors nonetheless. It happens with every writer. You beat yourself up over it, maybe say a foul word (or few), but you move on.

In all my years as a journalist, I’ve never had to write a retraction – until now. Hugh Masekela, I owe you an apology.

I recently interviewed jazz great, Hugh Masekela over the telephone. Prior to the interview, I had very (I mean very) little knowledge of this great treasure. I was given the assignment to do an advance write-up of his Dakota Jazz Club performance, so I did some cursory research (Google, YouTube) and thought, OK, I have everything I need to conduct the interview.

I mean I was impressed with his 1968 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Pop Performance – Instrumental for the song, “Grazin’ in the Grass.” I faintly remember hearing it a time or two. I remember liking it. I read of his political activities to end apartheid in his native South Africa. Again, I was impressed with his work, but I’ll be honest; I wasn’t seeing much there story-wise other than another old timer coming to town to play some stale, dull version of jazz that I was sure would have me bored to tears.

Mr. Masekela, sir, I owe you the grandest of apologies. Readers of Insight News/Aesthetically Speaking I owe you an apology.

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Now don’t get me wrong; my write-up was factually accurate. I didn’t misquote the man or anything. But I didn’t truly tell his story because I didn’t truly know his story. You see, one can’t know his story until one witnesses his greatness.

Now I can tell the story of Hugh Masekela.

A bit of candor, I almost didn’t go to the show I previewed of Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis at the Dakota Jazz Club. I wasn’t assigned the story; and besides, my plate was pretty full already. But the night before the show, I had dinner with a friend visiting from out of town and she mentioned she was going to the Dakota for a show the next day. She didn’t know who was performing, but someone suggested she check it out. I replied that I did an article about the show and as a way to catch up I decided I’d go as well.

We went to the 9 p.m. show – the duo’s second show of the night. I wasn’t expecting much. After all, the two are both in their 70s and this was their second show. They had to be plum tuckered out. Yeah, right.

Then something magical occurred.

With nothing more than Masekela’s trumpet and voice and Willis’ piano playing I, along with the couple hundred in the audience, were treated to the performance of a lifetime.

In all honesty, I’ll probably need to issue another apology to the two because I just don’t feel my vocabulary is vast enough to express the greatness that the two old friends displayed on that stage. But a once-in-a-lifetime feeling fell over me listening to these two treasures, and listening to Masekela tell tales of hanging out in Harlem and stories of playing with Miles Davis and the stories he told of Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie and Sarah Vaughn. It was like getting a first-hand lesson in music history, delivered by one of the deans of the college.

I didn’t just hear Masekela and Willis – I felt them. I felt them deep in my soul in a place never before reached.

Now ask me to name the numbers they played and I can name two, maybe three at best. Of course there was “Grazin'” and Masekela’s version of the Herbie Hancock classic, “Cantaloupe Island” served as the encore (and of course after that show, there had to be an encore), but other that that, my ears were virgin. But I didn’t need to know the titles of the songs. For all I care, every song is nameless. Their performance was timeless.

To sum things up, I’ll offer you the Facebook status I posted while in a virtual trance witnessing what I was unbelievably witnessing.

“Have you ever experienced something so wonderful, so beautiful, that you were sad a bit because a special someone wasn’t there to experience it with you? That’s how beautiful the music is tonight.”

That’s about the best I can do in describing what I saw. It was so powerful, so wonderful I felt I needed to share that glorious moment.

That moment needed to be shared. I failed in my job as a journalist to accurately tell Mr. Masekela’s story. His horn and his voice told me the story. Now I can truly tell his story. Unfortunately, I’m telling it after the fact, not before.

Will you please accept my apology?

To read the original article click here

Rolling Stone Review of ‘Playing At Work’

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Hugh Masekela: Dr Funk-Einstein

Rolling Stone
Bongani Madondo

Rock’n’roll wild man, jazz veteran, agent provocateur, the inde-funkable Hugh Masekela digs back to his funk journey with his record, ‘Playing @ Work’. Bongani Madondo, who had given up on hearing any surprises in Hughie’s work, is forced to eat his notebooks and bow before the Master at Work.

With over six decades at the Coalface of his calling – for this is not a “career” … something sinisterly persuasive, something that doesn’t ask your permission before swallowing your life and the lives of your beloveds – there just aren’t any creative spaces Hugh Masekela has not explored.

His latest album, Playing @ Work, is a primer of an artist in full control of the fact that he cannot really be fully in control of where his creative demons take him – that’s if being fully in control means sticking to the tried-and-tested, same ol’ style his die-hard fans love to pigeonhole him in. But, like his fellow late-night crawlers and debauched pals, Miles “Dewey III” Davis and Jimi Hendrix, Masekela is notorious for bucking the trend, altering your listening sensibilities, kicking a buck’ of cold water on your face, flooring you with his horn, and waking the goddamned out of you.

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In other words, Hughie just doesn’t give a funk if you rock or roll with him – so long as you listen, he’ll surely rearrange everything else you were certain you knew about him. There’s not much he has not done, recorded, played live, imagined, discarded, embraced or dreamt of in this biz: from street performance, recorded albums, musicals, film scores, and so on. With a his-“story” of playing with everyone – Herb Alpert, Miriam Makeba, Fela, Hedzoleh Soundz – to stage invitations to rock, with outfits such as U2, The Rolling Stones, up to latter-day township prog-punks Blk Jks and experimental collaborations with dance stalwarts such as Thandiswa Mazwai and Black Coffee, Masekela’s space, time and influence defies even his much-celebrated versatility. Masekela is timeless. Generations that, seemingly, have no direct links with each other have watched, dealt with, enjoyed – as well as engaged with – the artist remaking not only himself, but his art, while remaining true to his roots: a dynamic African musician for all seasons.

That’s Hughie for you.

From stylistic demands of several genres such as mbaqanga to funk, jazz, soul, house and back, Hugh Masekela traverses all with acute understanding, open ear and respect, and is not only dynamic and creatively receptive, but rare within a modern sphere of artistic creation.

Masekela is not a versatile artist. He is versatility itself. He is in fact Music, itself: as in, the sound and creative turmoil responsible for that which he is known for – Music. All transformative music, by its nature, and all alchemists practising the gift of “ngoma” (that is the art of making a “song”, thus making all songs creators as “aba”-Ngoma, the Healers), can go any which way at any time.

In his life, art, speech, mannerisms, gait and, if you know him, laughter and style, Hughie is all music. He is not about, or for, music. He is Music! Because of that, because we relate to him as we would relate to that which he creates, we react to him the way we re- act to music – an omnipresent force or act of nature in our lives.

We react to him in the way we would react to the air we breathe: that is, we don’t react as much as breathe it. We take for granted that it’s there and that without it there’s no life. We react to him in the ways we would react to the food we ingest into our bodies to sustain us. We hold him as the soul-force and the trip through which we strive for renewal. We appreciate and have rendered him part of who we are as a people in the way we do with personal and collective prayers, and meditative trips we take. We feel him with the same knowledge that we cannot avoid the daily grind of problems, sorrows and sadness – the Blues, to wit. But we also hear him to be the sound of triumphs and glories we are transformed by.

It becomes easy then, to get used to Hughie, in the same manner that folks get used to life while, of course, never ever getting used to death. In that sense, the person Ramapolo “Hugh” Masekela (child and grandchild of amaNdebele) and the music of the celebrated “Bra” Hughie – the international musical polyglot, composer, musical director, trumpeter, band leader and writer – has become part of who we are.

All well and good, but we should also refuse to get used to him as an artist, for artists, especially boundary-pushing, innovative, restless spirits such as Masekela, are never the same as they were yesterday, and you just don’t know what tomorrow might do with them, or what they will do tomorrow. Take his latest offering, Playing @ Work. Prior to listening to it, one might get apprehensive simply because you just have no idea what this Done-It-All has to say anymore – if he has anything more to say. And then it just hits you in all the right places … and then some!

Hugh Masekela’s latest record is a double disc of innovative, classical, reworked and freshly- composed music that largely sets, implores and beckons you onto the dance floor, while, in typical Masekela manner, slaps you bang across the heart with his incendiary and unifying, socially- conscious message.

The first disc packs strong-and-warm, but alert-and-alive music. Masekela is just incapable of creating music that just leaves you in peace. No, he is not a “peaceful” artist, if by peace you expect art for art’s sake. Not that he eschews creating music for the sheer pleasure of it; he does, although even when he does that. somehow the music is incapable of just leaving you alone.

On Disc 1, the song “Africa Hold Hands” serves as an establishing shot. And what a visual shot it proposes! The message – more a pan-African call for unification than just a simple reactionary “anti-xenophobic” reaction – is wrapped in a work of persuasive musicality and execution. For a few minutes, the song opens with playful piano chops, so clean, so taut, so direct that for a minute you think it’s a piece entirely redolent with strings in that Rex-Rabanye-township-string tradition, for the piano lingers a little longer with the clever precision, or editing, that introduces the song’s entire instrumental blast. Led by a cheeky and groove-riding bass, this is funk – Afro-funk if you will – for who do you know that’s phonkier than Hughie, albeit a different performance of funk altogether. It is mbaqanga funk quite distinct to South Africa. Synchronised and cooked together, the music is catchy, warm … hip-swivellingly touchy as well. The energy is reminiscent of Masekela’s longest and highest international charting song of all time – “Grazing In The Grass” – or at least a sample of it as used in the Hollywood Black Power biopic of Pete Green, Talk To Me. With this song, you are sucked into an imaginary climate … conjuring images of summer with communities playing communal drumming at dusk and children playing khati, and so on.

Well, it don’t stop – Hughie won’t stop there.

Building on the intensity of the opening track, he risks everything and throws caution to the wind with Track 2: a remake of Bob Dy- lan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”. The original piece by the “Village Poet” Dylan was included in his 1965 album, Bringing It All Back Home, the title itself an allusion to a blues and gospel idiom, as well as emotional quest, which, sung by Dylan, immediately assumed a staggering social import.

In this latest interpretation, Masekela renders Dylan probably at his funkiest ever since his own “Changing of the Guards” (1978) from the album Street Legal and “Blind Willie McTell” from Bootleg Series, Vol 3. In English: Bob Dylan has never sounded so urgent, so tomorrow, so funky, so down ‘n greasy, and yet so hopeful. The song is fuller, rounder, edgier, and the musicality (its balladry); the quality of the recording itself is more filling, and gives off more pronounced textures and colours. While the music is more up-beat, the chorus, delivered by choir-like back-up singers, gifts the song with renewed shape altogether – what Americans refer to as “audacity”, sometimes. So much so that the song you heard has almost no resemblance to Dylan’s song.

This is a Hugh Masekela song and its aural density and African spirit will remind of exactly that; that is, were we to have visitations of doubt. In Masekela’s hands it also morphs into a dance piece, without losing its poignancy. How Hughie, the musical director in his own right, does this, beats me. Must be the years running around with those West Africans! (This is said in the jesting tradition and, as backhanded compliment to Ghanaian and Nigerian music’s intra-wired funk and dance roots, and never pejorative.)

As though the introductory bleeds too much groove, he segues into “Soul Rebel”, a paean to his onetime pal, the Jamaican-born international Africa social soul brother No. 1 – Robert Nesta Marley: His Royal Bobness!

Other compositions such as “Makotopong”, the name of Masekela’s current recording home outside of Pretoria, and “Perlemoen” round up a very satisfying Side A of this double-whammy.

Side B (or Disc 2) is no walkover, though.

Although, musically, it continues both the mbaqanga-jazz-dance fusion (for both traditionalists and cyber-age hipsters) it also, and subtly, continues with Masekela’s celebration of his peers and seers who held the game long before we were born; the songs here give it an identity all its own. So it is as much a stand-alone as it is a continuation of the journey from Disc 1.

Although the entirety of this Side B is framed in tight and economic delivery, the overwhelm- ing feel here is of assured jazzier pathways: you can say, if you dare, that Hughie is going back to what made him such a force to be reckoned with in the first place: African roots synthesised with jazz. Hughie steals the whole thing from Theory and puts flesh to it so that, in his music, you get to appreciate in real time what is meant by jazz as an African art-form. The tempo here is slightly and deceptively slower, the instrumentation and singing cleaner and nuanced. This time around, funk gives way to a jazz with a gospel or soul twist.

Although the most emotionally poignant centrepiece of the entire disc is the melancholic groove and bass beauty found in “Where He Leads Me”, the song that might just turn out to be the most associated with this two-disc smacker is Masekela’s 1970s composition, which he never performed though it was made popular by the late Miriam Makeba: “Soweto Blues”.

Now I believe Masekela might yet prove to be the master remix visionary of our time, and by “remix” we do not imply the house music DJ tag of an artist who resamples and remixes several classics with contemporary computer-digitised beats. His ingenuity, almost sharing the same ethos as the young house DJs, lies in his ability to fuse new energy into a classic or older piece of work: updating it, rebuilding it, recoating it, while carrying something about it that made it a classic in the first place. And that’s what he does here with “Soweto Blues”.

The song showcases the spirited – defiant, even – voice of Phuthuma, as well as small choral back- up that recalls both Makeba and Sarafina! the musical’s unmitigated defiance. Here, we listen in awe and nod our heads as the young woman rises up to dispense lessons – again on unity. She scorns ethnicity, brings our attention to the ills of society across ethnicities. She sings with the breathing technique of a time-keeping drummer, so that when she’s comfortable knowing she’s got our at- tention, immediately and without changing, playing to the gallery or her studio producer’s approval, she draws us into a stirring gospel rendition of a classic African song.

Phuthuma’s coaxing, defiance and pride are, in the way Masekela easy-does it, accentuated by great accompaniment, experience, love and just the ol’ playful declaration of love for the muse. This time around, the art of music creating itself, more than any other subject matter, serves as Hugh’s most reliable muse and trustworthy guide. The same spirit washes over the double album.

With this offering (and, hey, who knows?) possibly inspired by renewed vigour, Masekela creamed off his award-winning and internationally-touring Songs of Migration musical, reminding us why we imagined and wished to own him, breathe him; how we have internalised him, sung him and sung with him in the first place.

With this album, he gives us that which has been lost or died within us: hope, vitality, defiance, beauty and currency. What else could you ask from any artist?

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Personnel

Contributing Artists:

Ramapolo Hugh Masekela – Flugel Horn and Vocals
Fana Zulu – Bass
Cameron John Ward – Guitar
Randal Skippers – Keyboards
Lee-Roy Sauls – Drums

Featured Artists
Pu2ma
Complete Vocal Quartet

Producer: Hugh Masekela

Engineer: Garrick van der Tuin

Studio: House of Masekela – Makotopong

Mixed by: Stewart Levine

Mastered by: Bernie Grundman

Release Date: November 2012

Label: House of Masekela

Distributed by: Sheer Sound

Executive Producer: Pius Mokgokong

This is an article from the April 2013 issue of Rolling Stone South Africa. You can subscribe to the magazine here.

South Africa Loves Pan Music

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The Trinidad Guardian
Peter Ray Blood

“Africa is fathomless,” said Hugh Masekela last Sunday evening when addressing a farewell reception, held in his honour at the Hyatt Regency in Port-of-Spain. The world-acclaimed South African musician, who spent the past month in T&T, was hosted by the Ministry of Arts & Multiculturalism and the South Africa High Commission.

Among the specially invited guests present were Minister of Arts & Multiculturalism Dr Lincoln Douglas, South Africa High Commissioner Maureen Modiselle, South Africa National Association president Dr Earl Brewster, Head of the Public Service Reynold Cooper, Arts & Multiculturalism PS Dedra Bascombe, Deputy PS Vel Lewis, Culture Officer 1 Marlon De Bique, Janelle “Penny” Commissiong Chow, and her husband Aldwyn Chow, Leroy Clarke, Oloye Orawale Oranie, Ako Mutota, Dawad Phillip, David Brizan, Clive Zanda, NCBA president David Lopez, Tuco chairman Lutalo “Bro Resistance” Masimba, Pan Trinbago vice-president Bryon Serrette, 2013 Young Kings Monarch Stephen Marcelle and artistes Ataklan, Black Sage and Lady Adana.

Masekela, who departed the country last Monday, was in the country to do a collaborative CD with Petrotrin Siparia Deltones Steel Orchestra, led by captain Akinola Sennon, and under the musical direction of Carlton “Zanda” Alexander.

Introduced to calypso by a Barbadian doctor in Britain, Masekela said he had been intrigued by the music, especially having being exposed to the works of Sparrow and the late Kitchener. Following addresses by Douglas and Modiselle, and being presented with a Leroy Clarke painting by the Arts & Multiculturalism minister, Masekela gave a succinct response, one punctuated by many anecdotes about his well informed knowledge of our music, life style, cuisine and sense of humour.

One time, Masekela evoked much laughter when he said the only delight he had not experienced in T&T was “saltfish,” no doubt referring to Sparrow’s double entendre ditty of the same name. But, he spoke at length about the hospitality of Trinbagonians and the effusive reception he got while being in the country, on his third visit.

“Your hospitality here is unparalleled,” said Masekela, adding that the music of T&T was “sweeter” than the mangoes he ate. He also humorously quipped about being attacked by sandflies during his stay in Siparia, adding that the insects seemed to know that there was “new meat,” from South Africa, in the district.

An associate of Phillip from their days of residing in Harlem, USA, Masekela first heard Deltones when the band performed on San Fernando Hill ten years ago. Impressed by what he heard, the Grammy Award nominated trumpeter approached Alexander to produce music which encompassed musicians from Cuba, Deltones and Masekela.

Expressing surprise over the “musicality” of the members of Deltones explained how he encountered Alexander and the bond subsequently formed between them. He said that being in the studio for some time with the Siparia musicians made him feel as though he’d returned to doing exams. He added: “I felt like a pig in dirty mud. The (Deltones) musicians knew so much and were correcting me.” Masekela said the CD would be mixed in South Africa, mastered in California, USA, with a final product available by September 2013.

Definitely a Pan Africanist, Masekela said Africa has no borders, despite concerted efforts made by colonialists for the past 200 years to keep Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora separated.

He said that calypso music reminded him of Ghana Hi Life music and the rhythms of some South African townships.

At the end of Sunday’s reception, following a performance by Deltones, Masekela and a few guests were entertained at Legacy House, Clarke’s palatial residence in the hills of Cascade. Gifts of Clarke’s books were presented to Masekela, Douglas and Commissiong Chow.

Masekela left South Africa in 1960 after the infamous Sharpeville Massacre, which left 69 people dead, when Trevor Huddleston, violinist Yehudi Menuhin and British jazz saxophonist and clarinetist Johnny Dankworth helped arrange his admission to London’s Guildhall School of Music.

Masekela soon went on to attend the Manhattan School of Music in New York, where he met many jazz luminaries. In late 1990, Masekela returned to South Africa to visit his mother’s grave for the first time. He now permanently resides in South Africa.

The recipient of numerous awards, 74-year-old Masekela has performed extensively globally, and his native Africa, performing with many of the international luminaries in jazz.

International Jazz Day Istanbul 2013

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The International Jazz Day Global Concert

JazzDay.com

Webcast Available Worldwide at live.jazzday.com

April 30, 2013 — 9pm (Istanbul)

7pm (London) / 2pm (New York) / 4am (Sydney – May 1st)

The evening concert at Istanbul’s famed Hagia Irene will feature performances by stellar musicians from around the world, including pianists John Beasley, George Duke, Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis, Keiko Matsui and Eddie Palmieri; vocalists Rubén Blades, Al Jarreau, Milton Nascimento, Dianne Reeves and Joss Stone; trumpeters Terence Blanchard, Imer Demirer and Hugh Masekela; bassists James Genus, Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding and Ben Williams; drummers Terri Lyne Carrington and Vinnie Colaiuta; guitarists Bilal Karaman, John McLaughlin, Lee Ritenour and Joe Louis Walker; saxophonists Dale Barlow, Igor Butman, Branford Marsalis, Wayne Shorter and Liu Yuan; clarinetists Anat Cohen and Hüsnü Şenlendirici; violinist Jean-Luc Ponty; Pedrito Martinez and Zakir Hussain on percussion and other special guests. John Beasley will be the event’s musical director.

Certain Birds Make Certain Sounds

Certain Birds Make Certain Sounds: an Interview with Hugh Masekela

Huffington Post
David Hunt

When Hugh picked up the phone and I asked him how he was doing, he forewent any standard return greeting. Rather than say he was fine, great or lousy, he offered instead a description of his surroundings: “I’m sitting on the porch in a rocking chair, looking at the purple mountain range in the hazy, slightly cloudy atmosphere. There’s a beautiful breeze blowing from the east, west, south or north, I don’t know where it’s blowing from. And I’m sitting next to our tour manager and we are rocking in these chairs and we’re looking at our bus and some trail ways. And it’s a beautiful spring day in rural Pennsylvania. You couldn’t beat that.”

The night before, he and his band had played a sold out show at Bucknell University. It was their 5th concert in a string of U.S. dates that will bring them to the Marin Center on April 27th. Masekela is admittedly busier than he has ever been in his remarkable 50-year career. Though the image of the old man on the porch in a rocking chair is misleading, his use of description is an apt way to go about things. In the music and life of Hugh Masekela, context is everything.

With his versatility as a trumpeter, bandleader and composer, he has moved effortlessly across all genres, collaborating with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, The Byrds, and Paul Simon. The timeless instrumental “Grazin’ in the Grass” brought him international acclaim in 1968. From that point on he would become a kind of global ambassador for the vibrancy and history of music. It was only 8 years prior to “Grazing” that he had moved to New York to escape the inexorable violence sparked by apartheid in South Africa. Now, just as then, his awareness and experiences ignite an outspokenness on issues of inequality, heritage, politics, and of course, music.

What can you tell me about the band you’re currently on tour with?

They are all outstanding players. We have been together four years now and we’ve done 2 records. The first one, ‘Jabulani’, was the one nominated for a Grammy. They are outstanding players, not just in the Jabulani style but in all kinds of styles. And we play great as an ensemble. The audiences are blown away, and that is a better description than what a critic would write. They have their own terms like Urban Contemporary and all that other bullshit.

In concert you guys reinterpret a lot of the material, arranging it much differently than on the recordings. Is that something you set out to do or does it happen naturally as you play together?

I think that you set out to make it better and more enjoyable for the people you play for. In the end, performance is about making stuff spectacular, unless you’re playing for yourself. I mean there are many artists who come there to show you how fast they can play, that they can play while standing on their head, you know, all that kind of stuff. The kind of music and musicians that I interact with are the ones who work hard at their instruments and want to be outstanding at what they do. And also like to live well off it. So I would say we are scholars of music – ongoing scholars of music.

We don’t think about all these other things that are happening, although I mean we understand what they are, but… the people I am playing with have been playing music since they were kids and they went into it because they loved music and were gifted in it. And so they don’t need accessories, except maybe for effect. Like we still use microphones by the way. [Laughs] So we can be better heard but we really don’t go over the top. We’re not technicians, we’re musicians.

During the president’s 2nd inaugural, you were honored with an award at the award at the White House. Have you reflected on that experience yet?

You know, I’m 74 now. I’ve lived in the world of public interest since I was 16 years old. Those things that happen, like awards, etcetera, are fantastic at the moment that they happen. But the next day I’m gone. I mean, I might not remember too much of this interview with you, because tomorrow I’ll be doing 3 more. The next day I’ll be doing 5 more. Since the White House, we went to the Grammies, where we were nominated, and then we went to Europe, then we went to Nigeria, then to Australia and New Zealand to Japan. Now we are here in the states, and next month I’ll be in the Caribbean. You can only remember so much and people sometimes get so hurt. You know, when you meet them and they say ‘Don’t you remember me? 1967, I was wearing the green shirt and my girl was wearing the red dress.’ [Laughs] ‘It’s me, man. It’s me, Hugh!’ So you can’t walk around going, ‘Wow, wow I was at the white house.’ It’s gone.

Are the speaking engagements and interviews something you enjoy doing?

Well, if you’re going to take something up, you have to take the world that it comes with. Interviews are very, very easy when you think that the entertainment business is the most accessible one in the world. You don’t have to have a diploma to claim to be a manager or whatever. It is inundated by every kind of character, you know. Either wants an autograph or wants to sell you something or wants to give you something, or wants to hang with you, wants to rip you off.

So, in the list of all that and having to know…you know, talent is not enough. You have to learn how and understand how it works to be in the whole entertainment world. I think to a very great extent marketing and sales and media are the integral products. You grow up with it. I’ve been doing it for over 50 years. It seems to be part of the world.

But I am very privileged to be in music, to do what I love to do, to get paid for it, and to see some of the world’s greatest airports and hotels. [Laughs] You don’t see anything in any of the towns that you go to.

I’ve heard you speak about the various detriments to music when it is viewed and valued as pure commodity. Do you have advice for people trying to navigate the increasingly commoditized atmosphere of music making?

The only advice you can have for anybody is that you have to learn it. Like I said before, talent is not enough. You have to go out and learn how it works, how the business works. Otherwise, I mean…You know, if you’re a visual artist you have to know everything about galleries and dealers, imitators and theft. If you are going to go into something, and you are living in a modern world, you have to learn that world in order to be able to operate. You can’t just enter anything starry eyed. If you’re going to be a boxer, you have to learn now only how to punch but how to take punches.

I was looking at the venues you are playing on this tour. Many of them are concert halls and auditoriums that typically host classical music, where the audiences are accustomed to sitting and listening quietly. But I know that isn’t quite your style. Have you found yourself having to work harder to get the crowd involved?

Our concert is built so that we start off by playing as well as we can; to show our virtuosity and our interaction with each other as an ensemble. So that seems to serve all those kinds of people well. Towards the end of the show we have them singing with us and dancing with us. So we cater to all.

I was watching a clip the other day where you addressed the crowd and said “Some of you may have never screamed in your life before. This is your chance.”

Not even in bed.

It seems that you view the concert as a chance for liberation, then.

Well, people come to see you. They prepare for a long time. You know, the concert is announced months before. Some people plan for it, you know, for many people it eats into their budget. And some people might buy a new flower lapel or new shoes or a new dress. Some people have to get babysitter. So these people come there with the hope of really having a great time. And they’ve come to listen to someone they’ve lived with in their living rooms. You have to make it worthwhile their having come, and if you don’t want to do that than you need to see a head doctor. Because if you are into yourself more than the audience, that is going to be your tragic flaw.

If you are an artist, and I think you’ve notice that, like… many artists are done in by the affect that after a while they think they are godly. But really you have to appreciate that those people come there because they appreciate you. They pay their money and they make plans to come and see you. So if nothing else out of respect you have to make it worthwhile for them.

In the early 60s, you immersed yourself in a New York jazz scene that included Coltrane, Miles, Monk and many more of the most revered names in music. A lot has been written about that period. Having been there, do you ever hear misconceptions about that time?

The main one is that they just appeared, or that all of modern music came from there. But they came from somewhere. They didn’t come from nowhere. We’d have to go back to Louis Armstrong and Buddy Bolden and King Oliver, all those people who came out of New Orleans and put together what you’d call ensemble playing, new urban ensemble playing, that was based on a fusion between African life and their being forcefully exposed to a European kind of urban life. And they found a void and a niche and also a way to earn money. And they picked up these western instruments and came up with what journalists and media people call jazz, you know. For them it was music, and it came from somewhere.

Music doesn’t just … is not just periodical. It’s an ongoing process; it’s been there ever since there has been life, long before humanity there was sound. So we are working only with what we have found here, and we try to enhance it, you know. Like the bebop musicians took it from swing and opened it up and enhanced it. And then others came and tried to take it to other places and they call it fusion and they call it avant garde, you know. But in the end music lasts forever that pleases the mind, that pleases the soul, you know what I mean? Whether it’s Bach or Palestrina or Debussy or Ravel. Whether it’s Michelle Legrande or Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald or Puccini or Pavarotti. But what you’ll find is that excellence in song is what makes great artists in the end. It is song and harmony and the music and the melody that fascinate the lay person. When it becomes very convoluted, other eccentrics come to, like, admire it and they form their own teams. [Laughs] But the majority of people just like a simple melody.

I think that’s one of the things about your music that has struck a chord with people. It is carried out with skill and craft but it is still accessible.

Exactly, exactly. But I don’t have to dictate it for other people. In other words, I am just talking about me, what goes for me is what I do and I admire all kinds of music, every kind of music there is.

I make lyrics too, like… in my yard, I have a garden and a very big yard. Certain birds make certain sounds. In my silly time in the garden I try to put lyrics to that sound, or put words to them, because its music, you know. So like if a bird is up and it goes ‘Chirp chada chada cha chow’, to me it sounds like ‘you silly mother fucker.’ [Laughs] But those are little fun things I have with myself. They’re music, you know. Music is just a pleasant combination of sounds, and it’s amazing that you don’t need a language.

Working to Preserve the Heritage of South Africa

The Boston Globe
Siddhartha Mitter

Photograph by Kevork Djansezian for Getty Images
Photograph by Kevork Djansezian for Getty Images

He turned 74 a few days ago, and Hugh Masekela — the South African trumpeter, flugelhorn player, singer, jazz pioneer, folk music reviver, cultural activist, master entertainer, and all-around irrepressible spirit — is fairly bursting with energy.

At the helm of his working band of the last four years, a sharp crew of Cape Town players less than half his age, he’s on his annual tour snaking through the United States and playing music from “Jabulani,” his latest international release; “Playing @ Work,” a brand-new double album as yet only available in South Africa; and gems from his 43-album-deep vault of jazz, soul, South African funk, Xhosa folklore, Afrobeat, maybe the odd Bob Dylan cover, and who knows what else. Masekela comes to Berklee Performance Center on Sunday.

His verve, Masekela says on the phone from a tour stop in central Pennsylvania, comes first and foremost from the privilege of performing. “How many occupations do you know where you can engage 2,000 people and have everyone feeling?”

More prosaically, Masekela, who kicked a bad alcohol habit 15 years ago, says he draws force from his daily practice of tai chi, in the manner of the millions of Chinese who practice the discipline into old age. “When they are really old, they are still upright and calm,” Masekela says. “When you’re upright and calm, you’re like an antenna.”

Those who recall Masekela from his Afro-funk days of the 1970s, his “Grazin’ in the Grass” hit of 1968, or for that matter his early career on the South African jazz scene with the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim (then called Dollar Brand) in the late 1950s, may find that today, Masekela’s solos may be just a little briefer than in the past, his hearty singing voice just a shade less lusty. The years will do that.

But that antenna has never been more sharply tuned. Masekela is collaborating with an armada of young artists, popping up onstage with everyone from New York Ugandan-American singer Somi to Johannesburg art-rockers BLK JKS. He launched last year a production house and label to develop South African talent across genres. And despite performing and touring widely, he’s also, he says, constantly reading.

“I’m reading everything I can get my eyes on, except maybe bathroom graffiti,” he says. “From junk to Dostoyevsky.” His range is broad but his choices are still pointed. His current tour-bus fare is a tome titled “New Babylon, New Niniveh,” a scholarly study of conditions in the late 19th century in the Witwatersrand — the mining area where Johannesburg sits and where South African industry took shape.

“Johannesburg was built, for lack of a better word, by pirates and greed,” he says, summarizing his observations from the book. “And that set the standard for urban life in South Africa, the values. Acquisition is still the greatest thing that every South African is after.”

These days, Masekela takes every opportunity to advocate for the arts and initiatives to preserve cultural heritage in the face of unrelenting materialism — in South Africa and elsewhere. He views what he calls “heritage restoration” as a global priority that is especially crucial on the African continent, where museums and arts institutions are poor and have been low public priorities, and where each generation that passes away takes with it knowledge that can’t be replaced.

“Today’s aged have that last oral information,” he says. “And they are sitting in the backyard, in the shade somewhere, and we are not letting them share it with us.”

Masekela says he is working with several colleagues on plans to establish academies that will not only present and teach but also conduct research into African music, visual art, architecture, and design.

In a sense, the vision is a natural expansion of Masekela’s own creative investment in South African arts since his return to the country in 1990. He had left in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre signaled the hardening of the apartheid regime, and returned to a country in transition, with Nelson Mandela newly freed.

In the years since then, his music has increasingly drawn on South Africa’s mbaqanga funk style and new, jazzy interpretations of traditional themes. Many songs on “Jabulani,” some in Xhosa and others in English, tell stories of the ups and downs of marriage, ringing like jaunty, dance-ready funk fables.

In the end, however, trying to put categories on Masekela’s music is a fool’s errand. The man is far too eclectic. His new South African release includes a version of “Soweto Blues,” a classic he wrote long ago for ex-wife Miriam Makeba but had not recorded himself. It also features a cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

The impression emerges that Masekela’s borderless vision and creative instincts, though honed by decades in exile, have blossomed with each year since his return to his home country, like a plant whose branches grow out at the same time as its roots.

“The greatest privilege I had in life was to be able to go back to South Africa,” he says. “I can immerse myself in our heritage and ancestry, and I have access to the world as a free citizen. I’m just enjoying being alive as a free individual and having access to the whole world.”

Fresh Because He’s Fascinated

hm14

Jazz Great Hugh Masekela, Fresh Because He’s Fascinated

npr music
Michel Martin

“I was a good boy,” South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela assures NPR’s Michel Martin. But still, he says, “as a kid, I was whipped on a slow day at least three times.”

Eventually, Masekela told his chaplain, “If I can get a trumpet, Father, I won’t bother anybody.”

His wish came true.

Within a few years, Louis Armstrong, who’d heard of a talented kid in South Africa, sent the boy his own trumpet. Photographer Alf Kumalo captured Masekela’s joy at receiving that gift in an iconic photograph. But Masekela says he has always hated that image: “I lost a girlfriend through that picture,” he says. “You know, we were very cool at that time, so that was a very uncool picture.” She told him she couldn’t be seen with him.

“Barefootin’ with your pants rolled up — I mean, how country can you get?” he says.

A few years later, the brutality of apartheid made it impossible for Masekela to stay in South Africa. A former girlfriend, singer and activist Miriam Makeba, encouraged him to go to America. “Forget about London,” he says she told him, “this is the place to be.”

Masekela recalls how Makeba “blew the States away” and “was on first-name basis with everybody.” She and Harry Belafonte soon gave Masekela a scholarship to the Manhattan School of Music. And he worked part time in Belafonte’s band, because, Masekela says, the older musician warned him, “They ain’t gonna give you no money, you gotta work!”

Masekela had to come to terms with the realization that he might never go home. But what he found most difficult to deal with was the cold. “That really made me homesick,” he says, recalling his first experience of snow. He sent a picture of himself to his mother, “and I said, ‘I’m not smiling, I’m grimacing.’ ” Masekela was not sad, though.

“It was the greatest time for music in the States,” he recalls. “I was surrounded by so much beauty, and so much generosity, and so much joy. It was a new world. It was the world I wanted to live in when I heard records when I was a small kid.”

Both darlings of the South African music scene, Masekela and Makeba had a brief, turbulent marriage during those years. “Our personal relationship was like not even hills, [but] mountains and valleys,” he points out, “but Miriam Makeba was the epitome, the very portrait of what Africa was all about. … She was the most generous person I have ever known.”

He brushes off the idea that their marriage was a nightmare. “When you grow up in the township, what me and Miriam went through overseas is very light stuff,” he says.

Masekela has spoken candidly in the past about his drug and alcohol use. He points to South Africa’s history as a reason why he got addicted. “When I grew up, liquor was illegal for African people in South Africa,” so they set up speakeasies — or shebeens. “Drunkenness to a great extent was a form of defiance,” he says. He started drinking when he was 13 and was 58 when he finally stopped.

Masekela points out that he didn’t get “sober,” he just stopped killing himself. “You shouldn’t stop enjoying life,” he says, “but you just have to stop beating yourself up.”

Now 74, Masekela says “I feel like I’m just beginning.”

He credits his endless fascination with keeping his music fresh. “If music was the devil, I would need an exorcist. That’s how obsessed and possessed I am with it, and I have always been.”

And to all young talented musicians who might feel the same, he has this advice: “Whatever you go into, you have to go in there to be the best. … It’s all about passion and honesty and hard work. It might look glamorous, but it takes a lot of hard work.”

Playing @ Work Review by Afropolitan

Photo by Brett Rubin

Hugh Masekela – Playing @ Work
Review

the afropolitan
Brenda Nyakudya

For more than six decades flugelhorn, cornet player and vocal legend Hugh Ramopolo Masekela has been producing music that feeds the soul.

From his humble beginnings in Witbank, South Africa, Hugh Masekela has not just made music for entertainment; he has been an agent of social and political change as he used his art to tell stories of pain and suffering during the dark days of apartheid. From his early career days with the Jazz Epistles to 2013 he has become a world-renowned artist, a vocal social commentator and an international icon. Hugh, affectionately known as Bra Hugh, is one of the few African artists to get mention at the Grammy Awards, when he was nominated in 1968 for the Best Contemporary Pop Performance for his album ‘Grazin’ in the Grass’.

His latest album, good-humouredly titled ‘Playing @ Work’, is a double CD offering, and Masekela’s 43rd album — and is just as fresh as his earlier work! The first disc is upbeat and opens with the track ‘Africa Hold Hands’ which is a clear and much needed call for Pan-African unity. The next track takes you on a different journey bringing in a total remake of the Bob Dylan 1965 classic, ‘It’s all over now, Baby Blues’, presenting it in his own Hugh Masekela African style. Soul Rebel is a passionate ode to a “fighter of human rights”, Bob Nester Marley and shows innovation as it fuses Afro-funk with a reggae twist.

The second disc brings in the Hugh Masekela of old; the jazz maestro who won his way into audiences’ heart with his trumpet. Featuring local artist Pu2ma on a track that was Miriam Makeba’s 70s hit ‘Soweto Blues’ was genius as she transforms it into a powerfully melodic beat. The rest of the album continues in the classical jazz tones with a bit of funk, soul and gospel thrown in for good measure.

Any fan of Bra Hugh will be pleased with this album as it shows that the musical master still has a few tricks up his sleeve and continues to make music to please.

Did You Know

Hugh Masekela serves as director on the board of The Lunchbox Fund, an establishment that works to ensure that school-going children in Soweto are provided a meal every day.

Hugh Masekela and Bob Dylan shared a producer (Tom Wilson) in the 1960s.

British priest, Trevor Huddleston, allegedly financed Masekela’s first trumpet.

Review: Hugh Masekela & La-33

Photograph by Brett Rubin

The Big Idea
Ben McNicoll

Along with Peru’s Novolima, Hugh Masekela and La-33, looked to be pretty much the most danceable musical acts in this year’s Auckland Arts Festival programme, and both proved to be so, but there were contrasts between the approach at the two venues.

South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s strengths as an entertainer carried his show at the Town Hall on Thursday. His history of anti-apartheid activism, and his reputation as a brass player took me to the concert with a set of expectations of tone that were cheerfully overturned.

Though his flugelhorn solos were magical, and highlights of evening, it was his skills as a band leader and front man that he relied on most. He had a warm banter going with the audience, alternately teasing and flattering, and proclaiming our status as ersatz Sowetans with a wink.

And his (frequently suggestive) dancing would have you thinking he was a much younger man than his 73 years. Many if not most are happy to let the Freudian aspect of the trumpet go unremarked, but he went there with a knowing smile, and it worked. He brought the audience into his circle of confidence.

And soon he had the audience calling back and forth to him. Sometimes unasked for. Sometimes in mutual unintelligibility.

The band he brought with him were slick, although perhaps too well rehearsed. Though they had only brief moments in the limelight, it was clear that they were very fine musicians in their own right, but the show lacked the loose spontaneity that I associate with the township grooves and high life styles.

Masekela’s politics finally came through in the more sombre tone of his classic Coal Train, which deals with the migration of young men from across Africa to work in the harsh conditions of South Africa’s diamond, and mineral mines.

“People always cheer for this song,“ he said in response to the hoots of recognition of the first few bars, “But I don’t know why. It is a sad song. So if you see me crying, please understand.”

Another musical highlight of the evening was a tribute to Fela Kuti, as Masekela covered the Afrobeat classic Lady.

But the evening was not without its flaws, and I believe they stem from the choice of venue.

It felt like Masekela was having to work hard against the formality of the venue and situation, as well as Auckland audiences’ legendary passivity being exacerbated by being seated. There was a tension between the expectations of a seated festival concert, and the music which just begged you to move your body.

Masekela exhorted the audience to their feet three times, only to have them sit down again at the end of each song in a domino effect, and by the third time up there were clearly older patrons who didn’t want to stand.

But it was also clear that there was a sizeable portion of the audience who did want to groove, and at the encore when a few brave souls broke the ice and ventured to the front to do so, the aisles quickly resembled a conga line traffic jam as what seemed like half the audience tried to join them. It felt like a release.

So I viewed the promise of “general admission seated” on tickets for Colombian Salsa band La-33 on Saturday with some suspicion, but The Festival Club lived up to its name.

There was no question about whether dancing was appropriate. A full house containing many Colombian expats, and a large contingent of Salsa dancers quickly transformed the floor of the Spiegeltent into a heaving night club atmosphere, which the band exploited from the first note.

This was helped by the removal of all seating from the main floor, leaving the booths around the edge and a few bar stools at the rear. When some audience members helped themselves to chairs and arranged them around the edge, these were whisked away by staff as soon as the patrons stood up to dance.

And you couldn’t avoid dancing. The style of Salsa Dura, “hard Salsa”, emphasises rhythm and the horn section, and both were about as good as it gets.

The band’s 11 man lineup included a very tight four piece horn section, keys and bass, and more percussion than you could shake a maraca at, as the three front men pulled double duty when not singing lead and joined the conga, timbales and cowbells.

Though there was little English spoken, the band seemed to have no trouble communicating their energy to an equally excited crowd. To be fair, there were probably a number of Spanish speakers in the audience who understood just fine. The rest of us got the gist.
One word I caught in an introduction sounded like “Police”, and somewhat surprisingly the band launched into the lyrics of 80’s classic Roxanne. The programme also included Pantera Mambo, a catchy reworking of Henry Mancini’s The Pink Panther.

The band didn’t let up for more than a minute or two at a time, and cries of “Orta! Orta!” brought them back to the stage for an encore of several songs, including a memorable musically pyrotechnic and interactive saxophone solo, while the band remained frozen in place.

In all, both concerts left me energised, but the contrast between the two came down to the signals sent by the choice of venue and the way it is set up.

The Spiegeltent Festival Club is informal and intimate, and that is a strong combination. It welcomes the audience into the experience as participants rather than observers.

As the more traditional arts festival fare is supplemented by these very popular and danceable artists, it seems as if there is a shift needed in venue programming towards those less formal situations. In the case of Hugh Masekela, that could have been as simple as selling the stalls as standing general admission, while still allowing for seated patrons upstairs.

Festival organisers need only ask themselves the question “would you like to dance?”
And then accommodate the audience who do.

Reviewed:
Hugh Masekela

14 March 2013

Town Hall, Auckland

La-33

16 March 2013

Festival Club,
Aotea Square, Auckland

WOMAD Guardian Blog and Review

Hugh Masekela at WOMADelaide – Review, Interview and Blog Excerpts

The Guardian
Caspar Llewellyn Smith

Photograph by Alicia Canter for the Guardian
Photograph by Alicia Canter for the Guardian

Review

It was a fine way to celebrate a 21st birthday: blistering temperatures, beautiful surroundings and plenty to learn from your elders. Some of the leading perfomers at WOMADelaide in Adelaide’s Botanic Park were more than a match for their superannuated peers in the world of rock when it came to demonstrating that near-enough eligibility for a senior citizen’s card is no barrier to putting on a show. For my tastes, the 64-year-old Jimmy Cliff on Saturday night was a bit too much the showman – particularly with his version of Hakuna Matata from The Lion King – but his contemporary Salif Keita was spellbinding once his band found their groove earlier the same night.

Keita was one of three leading acts from Mali at the festival this year, with a focus on that country because of the political turmoil and jihadist uprising. Vieux Farka Touré may always struggle to escape the shadow of his father, the late Ali Farka Touré, but Bassekou Kouyaté – whose family have played the ngoni for generations – is already well on his way to becoming a true star. His son, Mustafa, is in his band now, and took an impressive solo during their performance on the main stage on Friday night; but the look on his face later when his old man let rip with his instrument, making liberal use of his wah-wah pedal, told its own story. Like everyone in the audience, he just puffed out his cheeks as if to say “Woah!”.

Bassekou and co were busy playing throughout the weekend – plus there was an appearance from his wife (and vocalist in the group) Amy at the Taste the World stage, where acts show off their cooking skills, one of the measures of WOMADelaide’s civilised demeanour. I especially liked the sound of Novalima’s ceviche, and the band of expat Peruvians also excelled on the third stage on Sunday afternoon. Likewise Brooklyn-based Afrobeat outfit Antibalas on Saturday, whose performance was perhaps especially charged because singer Amayo had heard the news the night before that his mother had passed away in his native Lagos; and also Moriarty, a band from France whose parents mostly came from the US, and who sound like they come from the backroads, somewhere way off any interstate.

It was, as well, a joy to get a sense of the rich diversity of musical life in this corner of the planet. The festival began with a traditional kaurna greeting from Stevie Goldsmith and dancers and encompassed a bluesy-take on Aboriginal music from East Journey, who come from the Yirrkala community in North East Arnhem Land; also a performance from Sing Sing, involving acts from across Oceania; vibrant Aussie hip-hop from the Herd; and two of the most talked-about acts in the country.

If Stevie Goldsmith represents a tradition that is several millennia old, Melbourne band the Cat Empire who headlined the main stage on Friday night may well stand for the future, with their kitchen-sink appropriation of genres from around the globe, including hip-hop, reggae and salsa. Similarly brave, in their own way, were funk-soul champions the Bamboos on Sunday, who’ve added a bit of gnarled rock to their schtick thanks to guest frontman Tim Rogers. Both acts drew vast crowds in the relative cool of the evening (it was still sticky in the pitch dark).

With more than 470 performers from 26 countries appearing over the course of the four days, any review could only scratch the surface of WOMADelaide: there was also the much talked about “Blank Page”, performance art from the Compagnie Luc Amoros (looked good, even if the political messaging was a bit gauche); lots of buzz for the electro-swing of UK act the Correspondents (not to my taste, alas); the rock of the delicate-looking Algerian singer Souad Massi (inviting some dangerous-looking dancing as temperatures touched 40 degrees on Sunday afternoon); and Balkan swagger of that evening’s headliner Goran Bregovic.

Bregovic came within a whisker of stealing the weekend. The Marco Pierre White lookalike is a masterful chef d’orchestre, as they say in other parts of the world; he looked like the boss man in his immaculate silver suit, but stay seated for most of his by turns moving and then uproarious performance, letting his superb 18-piece band – involving, I think, a mixture of authentic Gypsy players such as the Kosovan refugee goc drummer Muharem Redzepi and conservatory pros including saxophonist Stojan Dimovget – get on with it. But for the odd moment when he did calm things down – as with a rendition of his hilarious In the Death Car – he mesmerised, too.

Someone at the festival (was it the band Moriarty?) said that Adelaide has the highest number of serial killers per head of population in the world. I don’t know about that. But on the basis of the dancing as Bregovic’s set came to a close, there were certainly plenty of bona fide nutters there.

Best of all for this reviewer, though, as previously described, was Hugh Masekela, who headlined on Saturday, but also hung around the festival site all weekend, giving a talk in Speakers Corner and guesting on the Monday with the Soweto Gospel Choir. He showed with his own performance how he has learned to entertain over the years – busting some dance moves, playing famous songs such as Stimela, talking about the environment (“Let’s make a resolution that when we see someone shitting on nature, we’re going to say ‘get off the pot!'”); but it’s when he blows softly on his horn that the real magic is there.

“Not too bad for a boy from a shebeen,” he said at one point, talking about his career and the distance it stretches from the township in South Africa in which he was born in 1939 – a phrase that might have served notice on his performance. But better came at the very end, when in the heat, he showed more effortless cool. The compere urged further applause “for a real legend”, and the 73-year-old, already half-off stage, yelled back: “No one’s a legend!”

Interview

Hugh Masekela – what I’m thinking about … a crisis for African culture

It is said that 11 of the world’s 20 fastest growing economies are in Africa, but when you talk about the economy, who are you talking about? The rich will benefit but the poor will always remain poor. In China, the economy is booming, but the poverty rate there is appalling; the US economy is the biggest in the world, but poverty there is appalling, too. So when you talk to me about the economy, in my mind that translates as “the establishment”. The ones who run the economy, the ones who own it, are the ones who benefit from it.

In my view, Africa’s real problems are cultural. In 20 years from now, when people ask my grandchildren who they are, they’ll say “it is rumoured that we used to be Africans – long ago”. I’m very interested in heritage restoration, and I’m working with a group of people to create a number of academies and performance spaces to encourage native arts and crafts and to explore African history.

I’ve got to where am in life not because of something I brought to the world but through something I found – the wealth of African culture.

Africa was not only conquered, but in conquest, through the imposition of new religions and the misunderstanding of the aims of education, and later on through advertising, Africans were manipulated into thinking that their own heritage is backward: primitive, pagan, heathen, barbaric. We need a renaissance to celebrate the wealth of diversity that really exists. Now, a renaissance is very expensive, but you don’t have to force a thing on people who already own it, you just have to make the space for it to show it off – you let it grow from there. If there’s going to be cultural advancement, it’s going to have to come from the people themselves, but they have to be helped.

It’s obvious that the rest of the world loves high African culture – African culture, period. Just look at a festival like WOMADelaide. But when people come to Africa they can’t find it that easily because the African establishment has no interest in celebrating it. Governments in Africa – most governments, in fact – are allergic to this because they don’t want to be upstaged. And it’s to the benefit of international industry that the people of Africa remain an underclass – so they won’t take ownership of the raw materials themselves. But if Africans recapture their culture they will naturally gravitate towards recapturing the continent. If they know more of who they are, they might not be willing to be so subservient.

It’s not just Africa’s problem; most of the world now has disappeared into laptops and iPhones and iPads. People think think that when they have these gadgets they are advancing.

Technology keeps changing the world, but music doesn’t change, it’s only 12 notes and six chords and it’ll always be that. It’s how they’re juggled that makes great music and great musicians study that, whether it’s Palestrina or Bach or Fela [Kuti]. But if you’re into the dark glasses and chicks with their asses in the air and in your face … I don’t know how much of it is music.

People talk to me about the rise of hip hop in Africa, too, but nothing that mechanical will last. The people look alike, and they’re wearing the same outfits, and they’re singing variations or rapping variations of the same thing. And yet the Hawaiians and the Indians sing variations of the same scales, but in there are beautiful songs, beautiful melodies. Anything that comes organically from people, musically, is what will last for ever. But what depends on a machine will always depend upon a machine. Until a bigger machine comes.

Blog Excerpt

“Day 2 of WOMADelaide began with a talk from Hugh Masekela at the Speakers Corner stage. This is Caspar Llewellyn Smith again.

I’d actually bumped into the 73-year old last night, and asked whether he’d ever met Archie Shepp, the radical late 60s saxophonist, simply because I’ve been listening to his oeuvre recently. And of course Masekela had: “I knew Archie well … I never liked his music.” That led to a discussion about his close friend Miles Davis, which included a great Miles impersonation and the view that Miles lost the plot when he ventured into that Sly Stone/ Stockhausen thing of his in the early 70s. “I told him I’d come see him play again when he started playing music again.”

On this Saturday morning, in a front of a crowd desperately fanning themselves in the sticky heat, he was at it again, a little bit, casually mentioning his friendship with Bob Marley, for instance. But he can’t help it if he’s known and worked with several of the greats, because he is one himself, and a measure of that was his insistence here, talking of politics, that “the ordinary person is the hero of every society. In a place like South Africa, the real heroes are the unknown people”.

It was also a delight to hear Masekela talk about the importance to him of his school geography lessons: “we learnt how to draw the outline of every country, their physical features .. their products, their climate” etc, which, he complained doesn’t happen any more. It meant that when he left South Africa after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 and started his peripatetic existence that continues to this day – he has homes in South Africa, Ghana and California, though as he told me “I live in airports and hotels and festivals” – nowhere he went felt foreign to him.

“I don’t recognise borders,” he told the audience, but talked about the vital cultural traditions of Africa. “If there were no Africans in America, it wouldn’t be the place it is today – they’d still be wearing white wigs. Without Louis Armstrong, they’d still be walking straight, without a dip in their hip.” (Masekela, of course, once knew Armstrong too.)”