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Hugh Masekela Can’t Help But Make Political Music

Photograph by Brett Rubin

The Examiner
Roman Gokhman

Photograph by Brett Rubin

Internationally acclaimed trumpeter, flugelhornist and composer Hugh Masekela never chose to be the musical voice of a defiant South Africa.

“I was just a musician, making a living. And it was coincidental that I came from South Africa. You can’t come from a people whose resources you use and not talk about them. I never elected myself as the representative,” says Masekela, 75. “I came from a country and a community that was oppressed and grew up fighting that oppression. I was just one of millions of people.”

True – but Masekela is one of a handful of South African musicians to gain worldwide praise and attention. And his music has provided the soundtrack to the anti-apartheid movement.

Celebrating the 20th anniversary since the start of democracy in South Africa, and performing songs from the movement, Masekela and vocalist Vusi Mahlasela (known as “The Voice” in his native country ) are collaborating on a month-long U.S. tour, “20 Years of Freedom: featuring South Africa’s Freedom Songs,” that comes to Cal Performances in Berkeley on Wednesday.

Inspired by American jazz in the 1950s, Masekela began a five-decades-long career of music that protested apartheid and slavery, and portrayed hardships and hopes of an entire people.

In the U.S., he had Top 40 albums and hits including the No. 1 instrumental “Grazing in the Grass” in 1968. He recorded more than 40 albums and has worked with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

Masekela moved to New York to continue his education after being forced from his homeland in 1960, when the increasingly brutal apartheid government banned public gatherings. He did not return until 1990, when Mandela and all political prisoners were freed.

“I started a career that I hadn’t planned, and it flowered and flowered,” he says. “I had a very successful exile.”

Even as Masekela’s music gave hope to millions, and his 1987 song “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)” became a worldwide rallying cry for the release of the country’s future president, he never envisioned a South Africa free from apartheid.

“What people don’t know is that from the time Europeans arrived in South Africa in 1652, until 1994, we were basically at war,” he says. “We grew up in (protests), marches and demonstrations, police arrests and then jumping fences. We grew up learning to outsmart them. They had to end (apartheid) because the country was finally rendered ungovernable by the people. Those people … and the ones who were killed … were the true heroes in the struggle for freedom in South Africa.”

Jazz FM Awards 2015

Photograph by Sarah Lee

Jazz FM Awards to Return in June to Celebrate Jazz FM’s 25th year

Jazz FM
Press Release

Jazz FM is delighted to announce that the Jazz FM Awards will return for a second year on Wednesday June 10th 2015 in the Great Halls at Vinopolis, London Bridge. The awards will also celebrate the 25th anniversary of Jazz FM, launched in 1990. Legendary South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award on the night.

Eleven awards will be presented to honour musicians and performers that have made an exceptional contribution within of jazz, blues and soul. The award categories are:

• Breakthrough Act

• Instrumentalist of the Year

• Album of the Year

• Jazz Innovation of the Year

• Live Experience of the Year

• UK Jazz Act of the Year

• International Jazz Artist of the Year

• Blues Artist of the Year

• Soul Artist of the Year

• Vocalist of the Year

• Lifetime Achievement – to be presented to Hugh Masekela

This unique event presented by Jazz FM and Serious will celebrate the wealth of talent demonstrated in jazz music over the last 12 months with live performances including Hugh Masekela, who will be joined by American jazz pianist Larry Willis.

Hugh Masekela is a world-renowned multi-instrumentalist, bandleader, composer, singer and defiant anti-apartheid campaigner. A proud South African he was born in the town of Witbank he went on to work with Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie, The Byrds, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye, Herb Alpert, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and notably his former wife the late Miriam Makeba. A pillar of the anti-apartheid movement, Hugh returned to his home country in 1990 following a 30 year exile. In 2010 President Zuma honoured him with the highest order in South Africa: The Order of Ikhamanga. Masekela will also play the Barbican in London on Monday 8th June and Love Supreme Festival on 5th July as part of his busy international tour schedule.

Jazz FM Chairman Richard Wheatly said: “We’re proud to be celebrating 25 years of Jazz FM at this year’s Awards which recognise the best musicians and performers. The evening is set to be a fantastic occasion, bringing together the jazz world’s finest with Hugh Masekela headlining what will be an unforgettable night.”

The Jazz FM Awards first took place in 2013 creating a memorable night of live music and celebration. Performances included a world first collaboration by Jamie Cullum and the inaugural Jazz FM Awards lifetime Achievement winner Ahmad Jamal with recognition of amazing accomplishments from Robert Glasper, Gregory Porter, Kurt Elling and more.

The Jazz FM Awards 2015 is a partnership between Jazz FM and Serious and is made possible with the support of Aberdeen Asset Management, Taylor’s Port, Mishcon De Reya and Arqiva.