A few months ago, a friend of mine called me up to tell me that Hugh Masekela would be performing in Nairobi, in August. We spent about half an hour screaming on the phone, we couldn’t believe that the music gods had answered our prayers.
Hugh Masekela is many things, musician, activist, preserver of African heritage. But the image that always pops up in my head is of him blowing passionately into trumpet. He plays the flugelhorn (which looks a lot like a trumpet), is a singer, composer and bandleader as well. His musical journey began in his homeland at the tender age of 8 when he began to take lessons in classical piano. As fate would have it, he watched the 1950 biopic Young man with a horn, based on the legendary Bix Beiderbecle.He then decided to take up the trumpet. He joined the Huddleston jazz band and began playing on a horn donated by Louis Armstrong who, coincidentally, would be a key influence later on in his musical journey.
1960 was the year that began what was to be his 30 year exile from Apartheid South Africa. He ended up in New York after a brief stay in Britain. I can only imagine the energy that was in New York when Hugh Masekela arrived there. New York must have been oozing all round coolness. Swung rhythms and improvisation must have been all over the place. It was the golden era of jazz and he was ushered into it by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong. In New York, he immersed himself into this jazz scene where he would regularly watch the greats Miles Davis, John Coltrane and other cool cats of jazz. He was also enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music at the time. In this space he was encouraged to find his own voice and this resulted in his debut album ‘Trumpet Africaine’, released in 1963.Five years later his instrumental single ‘Grazin in the grass’ went to number one in the American pop charts, catapulting him to the international stage.
He has had a solo career that has spanned 5 decades and over 40 albums. He has worked with the likes of Fela Kuti, Harry Belafonte, Miriam Makeba (whom he was once married to), Dizzy Gillespie amongst others. His ability to synthesize different musical influences while maintaining artistic authenticity is what truly sets him apart as a legend. His latest release ‘Playing at work ‘was released by own record label, House of Masekela.
Here is a link to ‘Stimela’.This was the first song of Masekela’s that I listened to and I was completely hooked on him afterwards. Honestly, I thought I would pass out from euphoria when he performed it. But that’s just me, enjoy.