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Bra Hugh Vouches for African Unity

Ghana Inauguration

21 January 2017
Sowetan Live
Lesley Mofokeng

 

I ask Bra Hugh if he’s on Twitter. He replies: “No, but I’m on Whatsapp.” I’m defeated.

He notices my disappointment and we burst out in laughter.

He may not be as tech-savvy and on top of social media trends as I would like him to be, and at 77 it’s kind of understandable. But Hugh Masekela is not shy to express himself.

We begin our quick chat in the comfort of his offices in chic Parkhurst, Johannesburg north. He’s just got back from Ghana where he performed at the inauguration of the new president Nana Akufo-Addo.

“He’s an old friend that I met through Fela [Kuti] in the 70s, because he was Fela’s lawyer. And I’ve watched him for 40 years aspire for this office because his passion for Ghana is so deep, and it’s a pleasure to finally see him get it.

“He lost twice in the last 10 years, the last time he lost by 20000 votes, but now he won by a million and half votes. Sometimes patience helps.”

Masekela is one of the greatest living musicians of our time, and he continues to release music. His newest is No Borders. He makes no apologies for being a proponent of Africa without borders.

“The music speaks for itself. You can feel geographically where we are most of the time. I’m very obsessed with cancelling the borders in people’s minds and let them get a sense of who they are.

“The Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation does work in the historical space. Our people don’t know anything about themselves.

“Cancelling borders in our heads and nationalism will help us to get rid of xenophobia, especially if we knew our history because most of us re makwerekwere (we are foreigners) historically. I tell people when I’m on stage that us, the Masekelas taught the Batlokwa how to till the land, but originally we are the Munyepawu and come from Zimbabwe.

“Even in our praise singing it’s there.”

The album is an eclectic mix of sounds and influences, a nomadic journey from Cape to Cairo, Dakar to Addis.

He recorded Been Such A Long Time Gone first some 40 years ago on the album I’m Not Afraid, which had the original Stimela and The Marketplace.

“It’s like a trip from the desert right down. At the end it says right across the river Limpopo white soldiers standing in the road, then pop goes my dream, but I didn’t put that in because that was an apartheid reference.”

Congo Woman, is a delightful tribute to the DRC, the land of a thousand dances. In it he celebrates the dances – kwassa kwassa, rumba and others.

“I was inspired by Papa Wemba. There is a great album of his called Bakala Di A Kuba. In it he has this song where he sings with four other Congolese and they exchange parts, so I called my nephew and Kabomo and Tresor to put in the Congolese feel.”

Other feature are JSomething on Heaven In You, Oliver Mtukudzi on Tapera and Themba Mokoena on The Rooster and KwaZulu. It is produced by Kunle Ayo

Perhaps his most important recording is In An Age with his son Selema, known as Alekesam in Hollywood.

“He’s been a musician since he was a kid. When he started school he played the clarinet, the saxophone and has always been able to sing. He got together with Sunny Levin, who is my best friend’s son and they formed a group and Sunny wrote the song and they asked me to rap on it and put something in an African language, so I chose a Tswana verse.

“I’d like this album to have an impact on whoever is listening to it, a curiosity about Africa, and African history and the whole borders situation. It should awaken interest about our origins. And I hope they enjoy the music.”

In three months Masekela turns 78.

“I feel very fortunate. I was bewitched with music when I was a child and I ended up living in it. I never planned to get where I am today. I just went into it for the passion. And it brought me halfway around the world a few times.

He is thankful to have met some of the greatest people in the world thanks to his music.

“I was helped by a lot of people, especially Miriam, Father Huddleston, and Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. I was able to go to exile for 30 years and still come back home to see the change and the freedom of our people.

“I think we are in a disappointing era in our lives. What we hoped for for our freedom is not really taking place. I really hope everyone had the chances and opportunities that you and I have, at least to live a half a decent life. The truth is that the majority of our people are poor.”

 

 

In Africa We Are All the Same

uganda-airtel-hm

New Vision
Steven Odeke

South African legendary jazz artiste Hugh Masekela jetted into the country Monday night ahead of the “Jazz It With Airtel” concert slated for Friday at Kampala Serena Hotel.

The jazz concert to also mark 20 years of Uganda’s saxophonist Isaiah Katumwa in the music industry will offer Masekela his second performance in the country, since 10 years ago.

“The last time I was in Uganda, I had a great time and wondered why I never came back. Was it about something I said?” he joked, at the press briefing held on Tuesday at Serena.

The jazz stars pose for a photo with representatives of the event sponsors

“Uganda is a beautiful country and having this kind of collaboration with musicians like Katumwa helps us bridge boundaries in Africa.

“We are the same in Africa. We are a product of Africa and we need to start thinking about our children and ensure they retain their African heritage.

“The problem we have now is indigenous phobia that was created into us by people who are not even participating in our fights. We need to recognise that we are fighting for boarders that that are less than 200 years ago and were not created by us. We had great kingdoms that have since disappeared,” he said.

Katumwa was grateful for the opportunity to perform alongside Masekela and vowed to deliver a performance that will meet the expectations.

“There is reason I am African and I think such moment take us to our roots. You could not talk about jazz 20 years ago in Uganda but today here we are. I am happy for this.”

The show, sponsored by Airtel, Pepsi, International University Of East Africa and Serena, is expected to start at 7:00pm and take attendees through a rollercoaster of jazz music.

Masekela, a multi-instrumentalist and singer is regarded as one of the greatest jazz artistes from Africa and is famous for songs like “Market Place,” “Coal Train” and “Run No More.”

Hugh Masekela Reminisces On Musical Motivations, Mandela

hm-nrm

WAMC Radio
Michel Martin

Transcript

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I’m Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It’s summer, and for a lot of people that means music. It’s a time when many people take advantage of the many festivals going on around the country to discover new artists or reconnect with old favorites. And in that spirit, we thought we’d bring you an encore of our conversation with Hugh Masekela. He’s one of Africa’s best-known musicians. He is an international star with a career that’s spanned decades. His 1968 breakout hit, “Grazing In The Grass,” was number one on the American pop charts and a worldwide hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF HUGH MASEKELA SONG, “GRAZING IN THE GRASS”)

MARTIN: Masekela’s impact is really hard to describe in few words. He’s released some 40 albums – appeared on too many to count. He’s appeared with artists as wide-ranging as Herb Alpert, The Birds, Paul Simon, Fela Kuti and the late, great Miriam Makeba, to whom he was once married. Now in his 70s, Masekela is still touring, which is how we caught up with him last spring when he stopped by our studios in Washington, D.C. And I started by asking him how he fell in love with music.

HUGH MASEKELA: I got possessed by music as an infant. So by the time I started playing the trumpet, I was already a bona fide musician. And I was playing classical music as well as other things. And then, I had a beautiful high tenor voice, you know, like those British boys in the cathedral. (Singing) Ahhhh. Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: I see.

MASEKELA: Yes. I asked for that from my chaplain at school. I was always in trouble with the authorities because my attention span was completely off because all I heard was music. So when I looked at the teachers, their mouths were just moving. And I was singing all the – Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell and, you know, all the new bebop players that just emerged. And we were mesmerized by them. And so, like, that’s what I was hearing. And whenever my name was called, I ended up at the principal’s office because I didn’t know the question. And so…

MARTIN: But also, you just had trouble – you just had trouble with authority, period. I mean – right? That’s fair to say? You just…

MASEKELA: Not really. Not really. I was a good boy, you know. My mother thought, oh, what a good boy.

MARTIN: (Laughing) Well, it came…

MASEKELA: (Laughing) I mean as a kid I was punished. I was whipped at least – on a slow day, at least three times.

MARTIN: Oh.

MASEKELA: The preacher said, what do you want to do with your life? I said, if I can get a trumpet, Father, I won’t bother anybody anymore. So he got me a trumpet and a trumpet teacher.

MARTIN: It came to pass that you, first – I think you went to London first. And then you came to New York.

MASEKELA: Yeah.

MARTIN: And you were there at such an amazing time. I mean, people like Dizzy Gillespie took you under their wing, right?

MASEKELA: Know what? I was lucky because I was brought to the stage by Miriam Makeba, who was an ex-girlfriend of mine and a dear friend. And we’d always dreamt of coming to the States, but she came a year earlier and blew the States away. She was on first-name basis with everybody. Then she and Harry Belafonte gave me a scholarship to Manhattan School of Music. I also had to work part-time in Harry Belafonte’s music publishing because (imitating Harry Belafonte) they ain’t going to give you no money. You got to work for – you know, you got to work for your money.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

MASEKELA: And we’re paying your school fees. We’re going to get you a cheap place to stay. And you got to work, man, you know. And all these people were their friends.

MARTIN: I was going to ask if you can describe what those years were like for you. I mean on the one hand, you must’ve been terribly homesick

MASEKELA: The first time I dreamt in English, I realized, you know, that I might never go home because by then, Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte were already banned, you know, and they were sending me to school. I think that the things that were most difficult for me were the cold.

MARTIN: The cold?

MASEKELA: Yeah. The snow and then, I mean that really made me homesick. I remember that my first snow, I wrote to my mother right away. And I took a picture in the snow. And I said, I’m not smiling. I’m grimacing from the cold. It is really cold here.

MARTIN: Were you sad during that time? Was it hard, or was it so exciting? It’s so exciting.

MASEKELA: No, I wasn’t sad because it was a great time for me. I mean, I was exposed to, like, the greatest music. It was the greatest time in music in the States, I think, you know, the 1960s. And I was really fascinated by what I was doing. I felt like I’d come to the right place at the right time. But, you know, when you’re a student and you’re in a foreign country, you miss your relatives most. You know, especially when I was hungry, I was like, damn, Saturday afternoon. I just could’ve just gone to my aunt’s place and, like, she makes the tribe stew, you know, with the hominy grits. And I’m talking to myself, you know. So one day, I was talking to myself in the park, on a Sunday afternoon. And I had a tap on my shoulder. And this cop said, (imitating police officer) excuse me, buddy, you know, see those folks over there? I say, yeah. They say they say they’ve been looking at you for two hours; you’ve been talking to yourself.

MARTIN: Aw.

MASEKELA: (Imitating police officer) Are you OK? Then I explained to him what I was going through. He went, oh, yeah, OK. Now I know what that must feel like. And he knew everything about South Africa. Ah, those bastards.

MARTIN: He knew all about South Africa?

MASEKELA: And then we became friends for many years.

MARTIN: Really?

MASEKELA: Because he was a young policeman. I mean I was much younger. That’s how homesick you can be. But I was surrounded by so much beauty, and so much generosity and so much joy. And it was a new world. It was the world that I wanted to live in when I heard records when I was a small kid. I thought that people lived in the Gramophone, you know, in the Victrola. And I wanted to get in there and go and come and live with them.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

MASEKELA: And now here I was living with them. I mean, it was – couldn’t ask for anything more.

MARTIN: If you’re just joining us, I’m speaking with musical giant Hugh Masekela. You know, people these days often think of artists as either, you know, popular or as political. But when you came up, there was not a difference between the two. People were very interested in politics who were also very popular. And one of your – your song “Bring Him Back Home,” about Nelson Mandela – it became an anti-apartheid anthem in the late 1980s. And I just want to play a little bit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BRING HIM BACK HOME”)

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) Bring back Nelson Mandela. Bring him back home to Soweto. I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa one, one, once more.

MASEKELA: I don’t know in other countries, but, like, when I grew up, you were not political. You were bombarded by politics. So, like, we grew up in protests, rallies and boycott marches. And from time to time, there’d be shootings. And you’d watch people getting killed. And we’re not naive. And we’re not like, wow, there’s a thing called politics.

MARTIN: Yeah.

MASEKELA: We’re under its boot. And we wanted to get out of there. And that’s how we grew up. Mandela was the symbol. He was the voice of all those people. They were a whole gang of them – like, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu and, like, all those people who came and brought us the direction to get out of our chains.

MARTIN: Yeah. Speaking of…

MASEKELA: They did their job. And they’re a hard act to follow. The greatest things is that they did for us was they said, like, never again will one group of people get to dominate another, you know. And we must try and forgive those who oppressed us and, like, build our country with them and teach them the gift of love and forgiveness.

MARTIN: Well, speaking though, of being free from chains, one of the things that was – I don’t know why I didn’t know this. I read this in your book, how just deeply involved you were with every drug there was. I mean alcohol, cocaine – you were really explicit. Well, how are you now, by the way – all good? You’re good?

MASEKELA: Well, what you see is what you get.

MARTIN: I hear you. Why…

MASEKELA: I mean how do I look for a 74-year-old guy?

MARTIN: You look great. Oh, you look, you look pretty great.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: You know, controversial now, giving compliments about people’s appearance, you may have heard.

MASEKELA: How sexist can you be?

MARTIN: I know. I’m sorry – apologize.

MASEKELA: (Laughing).

MARTIN: But you opened the door, so – do you have any thoughts about why? Was that just the way it was at the time?

MASEKELA: When I grew up, liquor was illegal for African people in South Africa. It only was legalized – I was here a year when it was legalized in South Africa.

MARTIN: Wow.

MASEKELA: And there were speakeasies all over. I mean, every fifth house in the townships of the rural areas was a speakeasy. And my grandmother – a speakeasy – and they were called shebeens. And I was born in my grandmother’s shebeen. And drunkenness, to a great extent, was a form of defiance, you know. And there were people who were famous for being great drinkers. There were people, when they entered the room, people would take off their hats – said, this man can drink. There was that prestige. I started drinking when I was 13 years old. But I started drinking out of, like, peer pressure because I had the most beautiful voice. And they were beginning to look at girls. And my friends said, man, we can’t hang out with you anymore ’cause we’re beginning to look at the babes, and here you are, singing in their range, you know. It puts a little damper on us, you know, so we – so finally I said, what should I do? They said, well, you have to drink and smoke so, like, your voice can get messed up. And then you can sing bass.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

MASEKELA: And I worked on that. And I – a year later, I was singing bass. My voice was destroyed. And the girls were not impressed. But…

MARTIN: How old were you when you finally got sober? How old were you? I forget now. You were…

MASEKELA: Fifty-eight.

MARTIN: Fifty-eight.

MASEKELA: Yeah. I didn’t get sober. I stopped killing myself. There’s a difference. You know, like, I think that you shouldn’t stop enjoying life. But you just have to stop beating yourself up and other people and hanging out with people who are beating themselves up.

MARTIN: What has kept your music so fresh and exciting? What has kept you so – continuing to work?

MASEKELA: Well, first of all, if music was the devil, I would need an exorcist. That’s how, you know, obsessed and possessed I am with it. And I’ve always been like that. And I think, like, when you’re not tunnel-visioned you become a better person. You understand humanity much more. And music is a gateway to the world. You know, so I think that what I do is always fresh because I’m always, like – I’m fascinated by everything.

MARTIN: I can’t let you go without asking you about Miriam Makeba ’cause you were such a – you’re both so brilliant. But just hearing about your relationship, it just sounds – it’s just like such a nightmare on one hand. On the other hand, so – I don’t even know what to make of it, really.

MASEKELA: Oh, yeah, I mean, our personal relationship was like, not even hills – mountains and valleys. But Miriam Makeba was the epitome, the very portrait of what Africa was about. You know, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother and her mother were all traditional healers. Miriam Makeba helped everybody she could have a chance to help, regardless of who they were. And she helped every liberation movement in Africa and outside Africa – the civil rights movements, in South America. And she would take her last clothes and give them to students or, like, buy medicine for refugee camps. And she was the most generous person I have ever known, you know, and…

MARTIN: But your personal relationship just sounds like a nightmare. Just…

MASEKELA: Well, it wasn’t a nightmare for us, you know.

MARTIN: No.

MASEKELA: It might look like a nightmare, but it was – when you grow up in the township, what me and Miriam went through overseas is very light stuff…

MARTIN: Yeah.

MASEKELA: Compared to, like, what happens even in the ghetto, you know, where, like there’s – you know, there’s even killings, you know, because people out there are pretty loose.

MARTIN: You have had such an amazing life. You’ve seen so many things. You’ve been part of so many musical movements. I don’t even know where to start. But do you have some advice for someone who loves music as you do?

MASEKELA: Well, I think that the best advice you can give anybody is that if they love something and they want to be involved with it, the first thing they have to do is to be honest with themselves. How much do they like this and do they have a passion for it? And second, they have to be, like, honest about, have they been told that they seem to be very talented in this field? Because whatever you go into, you have to go in there to be the best. There’s no formulas. It’s all about passion and honesty and hard work. It might look glamorous, but it takes a lot of hard work. The blessing with the arts is that you can do it forever until you drop dead. That’s the blessing. And I’m 74, and I feel that I’m just beginning. So I think I’m very fortunate to have been, like, bedeviled by music.

Masekela Pays Tribute to Fassie, Ten Years On

The New Age
Zwalakhe Shangase

With South Africa celebrating the 10-year anniversary since Brenda Fassie’s tragic passing, a new book I’m Not Your Weekend Special – celebrating the legacy of the fallen icon contains interesting anecdotes from many artists including Hugh Masekela who wrote the foreword.

Masekela shared some intimate, never before heard details of how he met the legendary Fassie, his doubts about her making it in the music industry and how her tragic death has left a void in his heart.

In the foreword he writes about his first encounter with Fassie in Zimbabwe at one of the politicians mansions where he and his then wife, Jabu Mbatha, were going to meet the eclectic Blondie and Papa Makhene.

He recalls that a “brooding, teenage Brenda Fassie sat alone in a corner of the entrance hall, her face a hauntingly morose sheer, her disposition that of a pissed-off kidnapee. “In response to our friendly greeting, she acknowledged us with an attitude of disdain, arrogance and total dismissal.”

Masekela said as they sat for dinner that evening, he learnt from the table that Fassie had already had a hit back in South Africa, Weekend Special.

“I thought to myself, how the hell will she make it in the entertainment world with such a f*****-up disposition?”

His perception of Fassie changed when they met a year later in Botswana, where she was performing with her group The Big Dudes to a sold-out audience at one of the hotels.

Masekela said she exuded energy similar to that of Judy Garland and Aretha Franklin when they started out in music. He said she was a natural-born comedienne, spontaneous; a free-spirited individual with an amazing voice and someone who spoke her mind.

Masekela emotively shared: “When I began to be really cognissant of the fact that her life was at risk, I attempted several times to give what I thought was good advice; she would just laugh and scream, ‘Hayi, suka Bra Hugh, how can you even try that when we are sitting here, doing blow (cocaine) together?’

“Like Miles Davis, Miriam Makeba and Louis Armstrong who disappeared but never died, Brenda’s music will always be in our lives and she left a big void in this world,” Masekela says.

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.”

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.)”

Songs of Migration Washington Post Interview

Jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela honors his homeland in ‘Songs of Migration’

Washington Post
Erin Williams

Photograph courtesy of The Kennedy Center
Photograph courtesy of The Kennedy Center

The journey of migrant workers to Johannesburg in Africa at the end of the 19th century is being brought to life through music by renowned trumpeter Hugh Masekela.

The 73-year-old gained fame in the 1960s with his jazz renditions of pop music favorites, including the easy-breezy hit “Grazing in the Grass.” Now, with the help of director James Ngcobo and singer Sibongile Khumalo, Masekela is presenting “Songs of Migration” at The Kennedy Center Oct. 17 through Oct. 20.

Taking a break from rehearsals in London, Masakela talked about migrating from Africa to the United States, his love for fellow South African performer Miriam Makeba and how music can transcend any language barrier.

What is it about songs that best tell the story of migrant workers?

    In South Africa, migration was caused by wars — wars and famine and conquest. People’s lands were taken away, and minerals were discovered, mostly in Johannesburg. And everybody came to Johannesburg, not just from South Africa, but from the surrounding countries — central Africa, southern Africa and eastern Africa. Mining people came from Europe, from America, from South America, and it became a very cosmopolitan migrant labor city. There’s many songs of longing for home. There’s songs of longing for loved ones. There’s songs about the difficulties of life in Johannesburg, about the sordid squalor that the miners have to work in, just like the difficulty of life in a big city…It’s choral songs. Some come from popular recordings, some come from war, some come from just folk songs — you know, love songs and songs of longing.

You were born and raised in South Africa, but it was an American that inspired you to play trumpet in the first place. How did that happen?

    It was a film [Young Man With A Horn], but it was many things because I grew up with a gramophone. I’ve been a musician since I was an infant, and I grew up by the gramophone. So by the time I got to play the trumpet, I was a walking anthology of everything that was ever recorded that came out of gramophones in South Africa…and cowboy music. We went to the movies all the time, and we listened to everybody. I wasn’t a special person, I was just obsessed with music.


You traveled abroad to further your music education and attended the Manhattan School of Music. Was it difficult being away from home?

    We have major community and family and clan support when you grow up in the townships, but to be alone in New York is one of the saddest and loneliest things, especially when you’re poor. Every student is poor, unless they come from a wealthy home. Many of us left South Africa physically, but our spirits remained there. We never thought we’d go back, so we settled in our minds that we’re going to spend the rest of our lives overseas.

You were married to Miriam Makeba for a short time and collaborated on music projects with her. Since she died in 2008, do you still think about her when you get ready to perform or create new music?

    We’ve actually toured a Miriam Makeba tribute here in Europe, and with Sibojama Theatre…we’re just going to churn out musicals and one of the musical we’re working on is Miriam Makeba’s life. Miriam Makeba is like Louis Armstrong. They just stay with you, and some people don’t die, they just live forever. And she’s one of those people.

How do you want “Songs of Migration” to be perceived?

    As artists, we want people to be turned on, but they have to have their own interpretation. There’s no way to dictate how people should perceive something. It’s a seamless show…there’s music…and stories, and different singers. I really can’t describe it, but when you see it, I think you’ll want to write again about it.

Mahala Interview

hm-mahala

There are No Legends, My Friend

Mahala
Andy Davis

What can be said of Bra Hugh Masekela that hasn’t already been expressed, more eloquently by other scribes, over the years? I mean this is a man steeped in global jazz pedigree, from ol’ Satchmo to Harry Belafonte and Fela Kuti. The dude is a bonafide, heavyweight South African rock star. Last year I watched him eclipse a line-up that included the brightest young South African musical talent from the Blk Jks to Simphiwe Dana and Kabelo. He gave them a lesson in how to entertain a crowd. And he’s gonna do it again this weekend in Kirstenbosch. We got the “Nelson Mandela of Jazz” on the phone for an impromptu little chat.

Mahala: So you’re playing Kirstenbosch this Sunday. What can we expect?

    Hugh Masekela: Do you guys get your questions from a computer? You always ask the same template questions.

Be gentle with me Hugh, it’s a Monday morning… I think the last time I saw you was at the charity thing at Carnival City.

    That’s long ago.


I saw you give a talk a few years ago at the Red Bull Music Academy, and you spoke a lot about the pressure on creative people and how the world treats them like a vampire that wants to feed on their creativity. Do you remember that conversation?

    No…

I was most interested in your ideas around creativity and where that creativity comes from and your advice for young people who are trying to make original music and culture.

    I think no two people are the same. Everybody is inspired from different experiences and with me it’s never been analytical and I don’t try to analyse other people. I can’t tell you what made Marvin Gaye sound so beautiful when he opened his mouth. Or Nat King Cole or Miriam Makeba. It’s something that comes from within a person and some people get more than others. And it’s how much it possesses you and how passionate you are about it and how you work it and, of course, how much skills you learn to improve your capabilities. If you’re a composer or a singer, you have to develop your instrument, you have to develop your skills because you’re working with inanimate objects like instruments, or a voice, and then you have to also learn the craft and the technology of music and all the components. So you have to be a scholar. But the great thing with art, and especially with music, is that you never stop learning. It’s like a bottomless well. And you can do it all your life. So if you work fairly hard at it, you are able to make it maybe when you’re 80, if you’re not in a hurry and you’re still healthy and you’re fine-tuned. Audio crafts and you become more than a creative musician, you come up with things that fascinate people. But it’s a lifetime study, 24/7.

Things are very different even from 20 years ago when people were making music. One of the big currents these days is that advertising and brands have become the biggest powerbroker in creative culture. How do you feel about the current state of play in that regard?

    Yeah but there will always be people who like music. There will always be people who are passionate about music, so there will always be that segment of society that supports live music. The biggest thing right now in non-technological music, is live music. People are coming out. We just toured the States, we did fourteen concerts and we sold-out every one, except one, and the people really want to come out to have a good time. There’s a great segment of people who are not necessarily advert or technology crazy, who want to actually have a CD in their hands and I think that will evolve into an audience just as big as the audience for classical music. There will just be people who want to hear music. I think advertising to a great extent and technology to a very great extent have been disadvantageous to art. That a person can just simulate voices and beats and make some of the biggest hits today. That area of music has become about how many units you can sell rather than content. I’m not really a critic, but I know what segment of the music community I belong to, or come from, or am passionate about and I don’t pay attention to trends.

We’re very interested in original music at Mahala, and what that means and who’s making it. Obviously you are a legend in that field but who are you enjoying of late? Who’s making music that you think is important and relevant right now in South Africa?

    There are no legends, my friend. Those again are advertising words. Media words. But there are no legends and most people that really consider themselves legends have always self-destructed. When you believe your press then you’re not the same person who started out because they loved what they do. I always try to ward that off, icons and legends, because my grandmother said it very plain, she said: “Listen, you lived here in our house for free for more than seventeen years. You ate more than us. We clothed you. We fed you. We looked after you. We sent you to school. And we exposed you to everything that you’ve heard and it’s from the people who surrounded us and if you don’t know the people you come from then you won’t go anywhere and if you think you’re important, just remember that it took me three years to show you where the bathroom was and I’m still trying to scrub off with ammonia that you left on my back when I used to carry you on my back. And I taught you to talk. I taught you to walk. I taught you how to think and if it weren’t for us you wouldn’t be fokol. So try and remember that all the time, otherwise you’re going to get hurt and if you don’t remember and you don’t tell the story to whoever thinks you’re a legend, then I’ll throw lightening at them and you.” So I’m doing this for your protection.

Thank you bra Hugh.

    But I think talent and creativity is a gift of nature and you are blessed with it and I don’t think you should take it for granted. They should be grateful for it and as soon as you start bragging, you are in trouble. I’m just the sum total of the things that I grew up around. What I was lucky to grow up around. And I guess it was fresh days for township communities, but I think that what happened when Apartheid re-shuffled the country, we lost a lot of our mutual admiration because we were manipulated into ethnic groups and conflict just at a time when people were really beginning to work together, especially in the arts and creativity, and that was a big loss. The other loss right now is that the places to play have disappeared because of the new configurations. Like residential life, town planning. We grew up in small townships and there was a community, a welfare centre, a municipal hall in every little township and every township had a band or two and had like singing quartets of men and women and s’cathamiya groups like Black Mambazo. And there was all kinds of rural ethnic music because everybody was an immigrant, so there was major, major musical activity. I think apartheid put a big nail in the coffin, but in the age that we are living in, like socio-political, socio-economic issues are more important, so we’ve lost all the neighbourhoods and places where musicians and artists could hone their skills. There’s no place to play, you can’t take a person anywhere, even when they come and visit and I don’t know how that happened, but you can’t have a country that loves music so much and has so many talented musicians, and not have anywhere to play or anywhere to see music because then how are they going to grow?

How do you encourage young musicians to find their own voice or style? There’s so much derivative music our there because of the way culture gets past down the radio waves and the big monopolies overseas tend to drive their stuff the hardest and that becomes the norm. How do you inspire people to pursue their own original sounds?

    Nobody is original. Everybody is an offshoot from their environment. We all learn from other people. Don’t you think?

I suppose so…

    If you’re interpreting something, you have to be passionate about it. And also you have to be honest with yourself because if you’re like fifteen, sixteen, seventeen and nobody has told you that you can play or you can sing, it means that you’re not in the loop. But also people should remember that there are different disciplines surrounding music, there’s sound engineering, entertainment law, road managers, managers, lighting, there’s all kinds of stuff. If you’re not talented you should know, you can’t be in music just because you love it. It’s an art and it needs skill. But it also needs natural talent so people have to be honest with themselves. There are no real formulas. Be passionate, study your craft and you’ll get somewhere and if you’re not in it for the glamour, I think you’ll go very far.