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Bayelsa International Jazz Festival

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BIJF: Femi Kuti, Hugh Masekela soak Yenagoa in jazz

The Sun
Kemi Yesufu

The Yuletide season couldn’t have started on a better note for Bayelsans and numerous jazz enthusiasts who stormed the Gloryland Cultural Center, Yenagoa on Saturday, December 7 for the inaugural edition of the Bayelsa International Jazz Festival.

All over Yenagoa, which is fast earning a reputation of a town that never sleeps, Christmas decorations give visitors a feel of celebration. It therefore came as no surprise that the Gloryland Center, venue of the jazz fiesta was filled to capacity. The atmosphere at the venue was carnival-like. It is doubtful that there were unoccupied seats as those who couldn’t get a place to sit, stood for the better part of the lively show which opened with a heart lifting rendition of the national anthem by Timi Dakolo.

Festival dedicated to Mandela

The Bayelsa International Jazz Festival took place two days after the death of highly revered Anti-Apartheid icon and first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela. After leading in observing a minute of silence in respect of the late African leader, Governor Dickson announced that the festival was dedicated to him. The announcement was met with loud jubilation even as the governor declared that Mandela’s legacy is indelibly etched in the hearts of millions across the world. The governor was to return to the stage for a second time to present legendary South African musician, Hugh Masekela with the honorary citizenship of Bayelsa State.

Presidential commendation

President Goodluck Jonathan, who was represented at the event by the Minister of Culture and Tourism, Chief Edem Duke, commended the Bayelsa governor for honoring the memory of Mandela. He reminded guests that the federal government had earlier declared three days of mourning in recognition of the great contributions of the late icon to the emancipation of the black race. He said the dedication of such a major event to Mandela, points to the sterling leadership qualities of Governor Dickson.

“I am extremely delighted that this government dedicated this evening of jazz to celebrate an icon, whose struggle, vision, quality, courage, passion, commitment, belief, and whose integrity is definitive of the new and emerging leaders of Africa,” he said.

South Africa High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Lulu Louis Mnguni, while expressing gratitude for the recognition given Mandela, said that the event also presented an opportunity to celebrate musicians such as Masekela and Fela Anikulapo-Kuti who fought apartheid through music. Rwandan envoy, Mr. Joseph Habineza, equally had words of praise for the people of Bayelsa as he described their state as the emerging Las Vegas of Africa.

N200m for Bayelsa musicians

It wasn’t only the South African maestro who was honored by the Bayelsa State government. Governor Dickson also announced the donation of N200 million as the initial sum for the establishment of a music school in the state and an endowment fund for Ijaw artistes. Timaya, Timi Dakolo, Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria and Honorary Special Adviser to the Governor on Tourism, Anne Banner joined him in presenting the donation to the Director General of the state’s tourism agency, Ebizi Ndomu-Brown. Dickson who stressed his commitment to youth empowerment, called on young people in the state to take advantage of the opportunities presented by his administration.

Night of scintillating jazz

It definitely wasn’t a night for speeches. Rather it was a harvest of world-class entertainment. Though, jazz super star, Earl Klugh sent his apologies via a video message, he wasn’t missed, as the artistes on the night were superb. There never was a dull moment, not even for new entrants in jazz music. Starting from Ego whose smooth jazz tunes set the standard for the night. She showed fun seekers why her voice is celebrated. Then there was African jazz groove from Ogangbe, the 7-piece Benin Republic band that has worked with big names like Femi Kuti and Lagbaja. There was also the invigorating performance from jazz vocalist and instrumentalist, Lekan Babalola. The lanky musician and his 14-member crew that included the Eko Brass Band got the crowd singing along. Then, there was the energetic drum session by South Africa-based, Delta-born drummer, Daniel Isele. He heralded the entrance of the 22-man Naijazz All-Stars Band. Highflying jazz vocalist, Somi also had a good time on stage. Her three-song set ended with her cover of Fela’s ‘Lady’.

Masekela, Femi channel Fela

Undoubtedly, South African trumpeter and vocalist, Hugh Masekela and Femi Kuti were the star attractions for the Bayelsa International Jazz festival. Their five-star performances ensured that they lived up to the hype. Masekela whose vigour and stagecraft makes it hard to believe that he is 74-years-old got a standing ovation after his performance. The music icon, who along with his band, performed in the Ijaw traditional attires, channeled late Afrobeat creator, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti with his version of ‘Lady’. He further won the hearts of guests at the show when he pronounced very well Izonkene, the name given him by Governor Dickson.

Femi Kuti and his band took their turn on stage. He promised to give Bayelsans a taste of what is enjoyed at the New Afrika Shrine and he did. Despite the semi-formal atmosphere at the show, Femi’s dancers were at their best moving their bodies like they do back in their base. Most men at the show had an eyeful of the fire dance African women are known for. Femi, who joined the girls at some point for dance sessions, as usual didn’t spare government his dosage of ‘yabis’. Though, he commended Governor Dickson for the developmental projects dotting the state, he advised that more should be done to improve the lot of Bayelsans. Songs like ‘Sorry Sorry’, ‘Truth Don Die’, ‘Dem Bobo’, ‘Bang Bang Bang’ and ‘Water’ got the 4th Grammy nominee loud cheers from the crowd.

The show lasted till the early hours of Sunday, but the happiness exhibited by fun seekers was indicative of the fact that it had what it takes to become a major event in the Nigeria’s tourism calendar.

The Masekela, Willis and Gismonti Southern Connection

Mail and Guardian
Stefanie Jason

Photograph by Jennifer Wheatley/Geotribe
Photograph by Jennifer Wheatley/Geotribe

Johannesburg came alive on Saturday evening when jazz greats took to the stage for “South Meets South — An Evening With The Masters”.

The feelings of familiarity rose from the soft cries of Hugh Masekela’s flugelhorn and the timeous notes from Larry Willis’s piano playing. This familiarity is undoubtedly owed to their long friendship and musical chemistry evinced on stage at the Johannesburg Arts Alive International Festival’s show at Mary Fitzgerald Square in Newtown, on Saturday.

As the two played classic jazz standards into the night, Masekela’s poor boy hat, wide tie and waistcoat, and Willis’s retro grey suit and eyewear added even more nostalgia to their show.

With bellows so heavy, Masekela’s knees buckled trying to carry the cries of his voice and horn while the crowd’s enthusiasm buoyed his sound. This was matched as Willis—a native New Yorker who has played alongside jazz legends such as saxophonist Jackie McLean and vocalist Carmen McRae—did more than just carry the melody.

Despite the venue’s cavernous feel that hardly provided the intimate setting this type of show deserved, the two musicians somehow managed to maintain a connection between them and the crowd.

Greeting the sea of diverse faces in the sparsely lit oversized tent, Masekela prepared the audience for a set featuring a “kaleidoscope of music” that influenced him and Willis throughout their 53-year-long friendship. With each song that followed came a comical or emotionally stirring anecdote told in the charismatic way the legendary South African musician has become famous for.

From stories of Masekela and Lewis’s time spent at New York’s Manhattan School of Music in the 1960s, to being introduced to each other and eventually starting a band—the award-winning trumpeter, flugelhornist and singer proudly spoke of their musical journey together.

‘Golden era of music’

“We met during the golden era of music in New York,” reminisced Masekela about his early years spent with Lewis jazz-club hopping in the Big Apple. Listing what they gravitated towards, he said: “We would see Count Bassie, Dinah Washington or Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers … and always ended up at the Village Vanguard to see Miles Davis every night that he was there.”

And with this long list of revered jazz greats he spoke of, Willis and Masekela played songs such as Easy Living by Billie Holiday and Clifford Brown, Fats Waller’s Until the Real Thing Comes Along and Billy’s Bounce by Charlie Parker.

Echoing what he said at TEDxObserver event in March last year—”Heritage is something that is beneficial to a society”—Masekela enthralled the audience with songs from his home country. Masekela was joined on stage by singer Pu2ma, the harmonising brothers from Vosloorus, in Ekurhuleni, called Complete—who provide backing vocals—and keyboardist Randall Skippers. They performed a few South African tracks such as Holilili and Abangoma, taught to Masekela by the late Miriam Makeba, who he said was “a stickler for tradition”.

Egberto Gismonti and Dr L Subramaniam

Living up to the event’s “South Meets South” title, which is part of the “Ten Days in September” theme as the festival takes place over 10 days across different venues in Jo’burg, the show featured acts from South India and Brazil, representing the Latin American south. The involvement of these countries at the event also forms part of the festival’s tribute to the inclusion of South Africa in the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group.

Opening the event was India’s acclaimed classical violinist Dr L Subramaniam and his band, who took to the stage for an hour of Carnatic sounds. Leaving the crowd spellbound with his virtuoso technique, Subramaniam’s sounds reached a peak of frenetic yet melodic sounds that set the mood for the night.

Following Subramaniam, was one of Brazil’s most skilled instrumentalists Egberto Gismonti. Showing off his background in classical piano before moving on to playing the 10- and 12-string guitar, Gismonti kicked off his set on the piano with a deep and dramatic rendition of Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen opus 15 number 7 Träumerei.

Gismonti later admitted that a technical glitch with his guitar meant he couldn’t play it as he had planned to. When he was finally handed the 12-string instrument, Gismonti warmed and smoothed his set out as he played only one song before expressing dissatisfation over the sound of the guitar and the lack of silence in the tent. “This guitar is almost broken. It needs a certain silence,” he said before playing what he called a “Norwegian flute”—known as a seljefloyte or an overtone flute.

Giving the audience lessons on how to play the part percussive, part wind instrument, Gismonti seemed to have forgotten about his guitar problems when he made jokes about the seljefloyte.

Before wrapping up the cool spring night, Willis and Masekela came full circle as they made newtown indeed a space for south and south to connect when they played When It’s Sleepy Time Down South, made famous by trumpeter Louis Armstrong.

Before playing it, Masekela spoke warmly of Armstrong—a musician who influenced the young Hugh and sent Masekela’s high school music group, the Huddleston Jazz Band, a trumpet after hearing about the band he helped set up. As the lights fell on the duo, Masekela praised renowned Satchmo’s legacy, saying: “If it weren’t for Louis Armstrong, we wouldn’t be here.”

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

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.)”

Songs of Migration Washington Post Review

In Hugh Masekela’s ‘Songs of Migration,’ a fantastic voyage

The Washington Post
Celia Wren

Photography Courtesy of The Kennedy Center
Photography Courtesy of The Kennedy Center

Hugh Masekela’s trumpet becomes a mining drill in “Songs of Migration,” the tuneful, quietly stirring musical tribute running through this Saturday at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.

True, the internationally renowned musician’s horn does not literally transform into a piece of machinery. But as Masekela discusses the laborers who have historically traveled from far-flung regions to toil in South Africa’s mines, he pumps his trumpet as though it were a drill chipping away at rock. When he refers to the miners’ daily descent underground, he lets the word “deep” ring out for several seconds, in an anguished, falling cry.

Masekela’s salvos of showmanship are among the chief pleasures of “Songs of Migration,” conceived by Masekela with South African director James Ngcobo and written and directed by Ngcobo. Interweaving songs with snippets of storytelling, bits of stage business and a hint of dance, the production evokes the lives and musical legacy of migrant workers in late-19th-century Southern Africa. But the perspective ranges in space and time, too, encompassing a few traditional African American songs (“Rail Road,” “Hush”) and even sampling “Look to the Rainbow” (from “Finian’s Rainbow”) and “My Yiddishe Momme” for a broader meditation on diaspora and the hope, disappointment, homesickness, frustration and resilience that it unleashes.

A five-person band sits onstage at the heart of the show, which also stars the celebrated South African singer Sibongile Khumalo. (“Songs of Migration” first ran at Johannesburg’s Market Theatre and is now produced by Sibojama Theatre.)

In the opening moments, a small ensemble — including four terrific male vocalists from the a cappella group Complete — scurries out from the wings and snatches up suitcases stationed across the stage. Dancing gently in place, suitcases swinging, the performers conjure up a street in a busy African city. Later, they turn the suitcases into drums; later still, they churn their arms like railroad engine pistons in the lead-up to Masekela’s well-known train-themed song “Stimela.”

Amid such theatrical touches, the show’s two headliners take frequent moments in the spotlight. When he’s not playing his trumpet, the elderly Masekela — dressed in black, with a purple jacket — often breaks into gentle but exuberant dance, knees bent, hips shimmying, feet gliding in a delicate soft-shoe. Khumalo, looking stately in colored dresses with matching head scarves, does some mellifluous singing. But she acts and tells stories, too. In a speech that highlights the close connections between sound, emotion and memory, she reminisces about the street noises she heard growing up in Soweto, for instance. And in an amusing sequence, as the ensemble sings its way through an upbeat ditty, Masekela pretends to be a tipsy township resident getting too friendly with the ladies, and Khumalo quells him with an icy stare.

Now wistful, now buoyant in tone, “Songs of Migration” brims with universal concerns: the anxiety caused by separation from friends and loved ones; the problems of unemployment and worker exploitation; the difficulty of adjusting to a new environment; loneliness. But specific references to South Africa’s past surface, too: At one point in the show, performers briefly hold up signs referring to the 1955 Freedom Charter and to the notorious Sharpeville Massacre, for instance. Theatergoers versed in the history of Masekela’s homeland might be best positioned to appreciate these references.

Still, “Songs of Migration” is principally a trove of music, plus an irresistible leading man. Mining imagery notwithstanding, it’s the sound, and Masekela’s charisma, that run deep here.

Veenwouden Masekela Wine Launch

hmcollection-launch-veenwouden

Hugh Masekela Wine Collection Launched by Veenwouden

House of Masekela Press Release

‘Music, wine, food and good company are the best combination’ says Marcel van der Walt, vintner at Veenwouden and Hugh Masekela’s latest partner in collaboration. This heady mix was at its best last Sunday as the House of Masekela launched Veenwouden’s new Hugh Masekela Collection at Signature Restaurant in Sandton, Johannesburg. Incomparable pianist, Larry Willis, joined Bra Hugh to celebrate the release of the wine, perfectly timed to coincide with the release of their latest joint album: Friends, a 4 CD box set of jazz standards that serves as the long-awaited sequel to Almost Like Being in Jazz.

The audience was treated to a selection of numbers off the album, as well as anecdotes from Larry and Hugh’s shared years at the Manhattan school of Music in the early 60s, when the two spent every night in clubs watching and learning from talents like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charlie Mingus and Max Roach. The music and laughter continued as three delicious courses were served – carefully chosen to whet the appetite for the main attraction: Veenwouden Private Cellar Hugh Masekela Collection 2012.

Van der Walt envisions this release as being the first of many inspired by Masekela’s music. Friends brings together two lifelong friends, who have both pushed the boundaries of excellence in their instruments, to play music from the golden era of jazz. The first release from the Hugh Masekela Collection needed to be a tribute to these greats and also the perfect drinking accompaniment when listening to the album. Van der Walt had this in mind when he hand-selected the perfect grapes from Veenwouden’s 2011 vintage. The result is a well-structured blend with the mineral backbone of Cabernet Sauvignon, softened by velvety Merlot. Bold dark fruits with a hint of spice give way to deep blackcurrant molasses that lingers on the palate long after the last sip. Already delicious, this complex wine has been designed to age for up to 20 years.

Signature Restaurant in Sandton was the perfect choice as launch pad for this special collection. Owner, Desmond Mabuza, opened the venue 3 years ago with the aim to bring excellent food, great service, classy ambience and outstanding entertainment under one roof. He certainly has succeeded. Despite the local and worldwide recession in recent years, Signature has thrived from day one. The restaurant offers live music nightly from Monday to Saturday and at lunch time on Sunday’s. Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis are without doubt the biggest stars yet to grace Signature’s stage and Mabuza hopes that this is just the beginning of a tradition of top-drawer events in this premium setting.

Only 1000 bottles of the Veenwouden Hugh Masekela Collection 2012 have been released worldwide, 500 of these available in South Africa, making this wine a true collector’s item. To make this purchase even more special, the House of Masekela has designed gift-packages that include the Friends box set.

Veenwouden Hugh Masekela Collection 2012 is available through Signature Restaurant (Tel: 087 940 3880; Email: info@signaturerestaurant.co.za), at the Veenwouden cellar in Paarl by appointment (Tel: 021 872 6806; Email: marcel@veenwouden.com) or via the Veenwouden website: veenwouden.com

Hugh Masekela at WOMAD 2012

Photography by Christian Sinibaldi

Hugh Masekela Inspires Crowds at WOMAD 2012

The Guardian – Music Blog
(excerpts)

Photography by Christian Sinibaldi

> Last night, things were just getting going, with appearances from a handful of folk including Dennis Bovell and New Orleans funk outfit the Soul Rebels, both of whom – absolutely typically – I contrived to miss. But the action gets going in earnest today, with the likes of Hugh Masekela, Jimmy Cliff and – the band I’m most looking forward to – Lo’Jo, who play the Siam Tent at some point gone midnight: so after this Olympics hoohah in London. I hope I’m still awake then.

> 4.40pm: Hi, Caspar here again, retreating into the sanctuary of the backstage area – it’s hot out there. And so far, it’s been inspiring. Hugh Masekela kicked things off on the main stage, and looked very much – dressed all in black – like the coolest 73-year old of all time.

Then he came back to this backstage area, where we filmed him giving a solo performance of Louis Armstrong’s Rockin’ Chair. Masekela met Armstrong when he was studying at the Manhattan School of Music in New York in the early 60s, after he left South Africa following the Sharpeville Massacre. So to have him give me a little hug before out filming was slightly mind blowing. We should have the results of that filming on the site early next week.

Someone else asked Masekela about he’d like the crowd at Womad to take away about South Africa from his performance here. “I don’t go on stage for South Africa, I go on stage for the audience,” he said. “All the rest is bullshit.”

> 6.06pm: And this is Robin Denselow. I didn’t make the first Womad, but I’ve been lucky enough to get to most of them over the past 30 years…and this has started off as a suitably impressive birthday celebration, though perhaps without a really massive ‘must see’ act one might have expected (though the new Robert Plant band, who I saw in London a couple of weeks back will make suitably impressive headliners on Sunday night).

So far we’ve had a solidly impressive opening set from the great Hugh Masekela, who has already been seen in London this year playing at Back2Black, Paul Simon’s Graceland, and River of Music. As ever he mixed South African township and jazz influences, and was in great form playing and singing solo backstage. He has long been a great horn player, but his voice is getting better and better.

WOMAD was once dominated by African bands, but this year the music really is global – and with a greater emphasis on Asia and the Far East. Narasirato from the Solomon Islands in the Pacific came on wearing body paint and not a great deal else, and managed to update the sound of that much maligned instrument, the pan-pipes. There were seven players performing on different bamboo flutes, and even two of the percussionists were bashing at bamboo. It worked, because of their slick, energetic and rhythmic playing – though they could have done with a little more variety in their full-tilt set.

BT River of Music

Photography by Haydn Wheeler

Hugh Masekela, Angelique Kidjo, Ndeshi:
The Africa Stage, BT River of Music Festival as Olympic Games Launched

allAfrica.com

Photography by Haydn Wheeler

Namibian R&B singer, Ndeshi Shipanga recently represented Namibia at the BT River of Music Festival, held in London as part of the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

She performed with the SAfricanto accapella group, which consisted of singers from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa. Ndeshi, who was the only representative for Namibia.

Along with a solo performance, Safricanto also accompanied the legendary Hugh Masekela on stage at the London Pleasure Gardens.

Led by vocal director, Joyce Moholoagae, a world class South African singer who studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music, Safricanto’s musical harmonies, vivid melodies and rhythmic grooves conjured the rich tapestry of African culture, right in the heart of east London.

Hugh Masekela has come to be known as a living legend in the half-century since he first picked up a trumpet, his voice has long spoken out about his country’s struggle for civil rights, whilst his soaring, joyful trumpet sound brims with warmth and bristles with elements of township jazz, hip-hop and funk.

He took to the BT River of Music Africa stage for two collaborations: first with SAfricanto and the second with fellow African superstar Angelique Kidjo.

The concert also featured a performance by the Senegalese singer, Baaba Maal.

“It was amazing,” says Ndeshi. “There were over 8 000 people at the sold out venue, so it was slightly nerve wrecking, especially working with Hugh but he was really friendly and down to earth and gave all of us hugs.”

Ndeshi recounts how Masekela made sure his part of the show was as authentically African as possible. “He told all the back-up singers to remove the weaves from their hair before the show,” says Ndeshi laughingly. “He said they contain the ghosts of the dead.”

Her involvement in the show started when she was approached by Serious Music, one of the UK’s leading producers and curators of contemporary music, who were looking for singers from southern Africa.

The group met up, learned the various songs and rehearsed only twice before Masekela pronounced them ready for the stage.

“It was such a great day and a massive festival with a massive stage and loads of stalls. The kids were all running around barefoot and it felt almost like being back home,” she said.

The idea of BT River of Music began 10 years ago when Serious created and produced five epic stages around the Serpentine for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebration. Since then, they have been developing the idea that has finally become BT River of Music, which brings together artists from across the world for this once in a lifetime event.

Ndeshi relocated to the UK about four years ago, where she has been working with young people and future musicians. She’s had a few small performances and has continued writing songs while raising her son, who saw his mum perform for the first time at the concert last Saturday. She is looking forward to doing more recordings and being involved with future performances with Safricanto.

Hugh Masekela Joins Paul Simon Graceland Tour!

Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela Joins Paul Simon in London to Kick off the Graceland Tour!

Photograph: Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Twenty five years after Hugh Masekela first collaborated with Paul Simon and now legendary SA musicians like Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the Graceland album and subsequent tour – the two icons reunited on a Hyde Park Stage on 15 July 2012. The anniversary celebration included the original Graceland band, led by guitarist Ray Phiri as well as Ladysmith Black Mambazo and reggae star, Jimmy Cliff.

This celebratory concert marks the beginning of an anniversary tour that coincides with the release of a new edition of Graceland, which was recorded in Johannesburg last year and features a number of the musicians off the original album.

In 1987, South Africa was in a state of emergency, Nelson Mandela was behind bars and the South African people were utterly oppressed by the apartheid government. The international community established boycotts in support of the Struggle – including a cultural boycott that Paul Simon broke by recording Graceland in South Africa. Hugh Masekela defended him against international outcry at this contravention as it was not only hugely advantageous to the careers of the South African musicians involved, but also brought a much higher level of awareness of the South African situation to the world.

Twenty five years on, their anniversary tour is a joyous celebration of their longstanding friendship that is now welcomed in a democratic South Africa. Both septuagenarians show no signs of slowing down as they revel in the diverse, funky, beautiful music that brought them together.

The tour continues and Masekela joins Simon for the following appearances:

Brussels , Belgium 17 July Vorst Nationaal
Amsterdam, Netherlands 18 July Ziggo Dome
Herning, Denmark 20 July Jyske Bank Boxen, MCH
Stockholm , Sweden 22 July Ericsson Globe Arena
Olso, Norway 24 July Oslo Spektrum