Author Archive

Obituary: Hugh Masekela 1939-2018

Posted on January 23rd, 2018 in News, Recent posts by .

Hugh Masekela x 700

Photography © Brett Rubin

Nigel Williamson on the life of the colossus of South African music who died today

Read our beginner’s guide to Hugh Masekela

There’s an extraordinary photo of a 16-year-old Hugh Masekela taken in the township of Sophiatown on the day in 1955 when he received a new trumpet, sent from the US by Louis Armstrong.

The image of him leaping for joy with the instrument waved triumphantly above his head seems to personify much about both his music and the spirit of the man.


His songs spoke movingly of the struggles and sorrows of his people – for example  ‘Stimela’, on which he recounted the hardship of black migrant workers in South Africa’s coal mines, or ‘Soweto Blues’, which he wrote for his ex-wife Miriam Makeba to sing after the 1976 township massacre. Yet at the same time Masekela’s music was imbued with a resilient joy-to-be-alive sentiment and a defiant hope that one day his country would be free.

Fast forward to Masekela in exile in the 60s, where he is emerging as a talented but conventional trumpeter on the New York jazz scene. Miles Davis takes him on one side and gives him some advice that will shape his musical vision for the rest of his life. “You’re just going to be a statistic if you play jazz,” Davis tells him. “But if you put in some of the stuff you remember from Africa, you’ll be different from everybody.”

The result was a glorious fusion of American jazz and African township rhythms which made him anti-apartheid’s premier musical ambassador and in 1968 took him to number one in the American pop charts with ‘Grazin’ in the Grass’.

Over the next 50 years there were many ups and downs but the spirit of his music continued to shine true and its message of hope triumphing over adversity never wavered. Masekela eventually returned to South Africa in 1990 following the release from prison of Nelson Mandela.

His ferocity mellowed and he became a benign and avuncular elder statesman of the post-apartheid era. He continued to record and tour but spent much of his time and energy mentoring younger South African artists, even while battling cancer.

“I’ve had a very rich life,” he said.  “The best thing I can do now is to encourage a new generation of talented people to come through.”

RIP, Bra Hugh.

Tags: , .

Babel Med 2018 Cancelled

Posted on December 21st, 2017 in News, Recent posts by .


The annual world music and jazz expo in Marseille, Babel Med, has been forced to cancel its next and 14th edition, due to a 80% cut in funding from the Provence-Alps-Cote d’Azur region.

The shock announcement was made following the withdrawal of support from its principal partner – just three months before the event was due to take place (March 15-17 2018). Over the last 13 years Babel Med has seen over 180,000 spectators and 26,000 music industry professionals who gather at the event every year to discover new bands, network and do business.

This is huge blow not just to the cultural sector of the region – 30% of the artists programmed at Babel Med are local – but to the wider world music community. Besides the immediate loss of jobs, the cancellation will also have a big economic and cultural impact on the city and the global world music industry.

Zone Franche, France’s world music professional network organisation has launched a petition, please sign and show your support:

Tags: , .

Obituary: Sue Steward

Posted on August 23rd, 2017 in Recent posts by .

One of Songlines’ founding contributing editors, Sue Steward, passed away this morning following a cerebral haemorrhage last week


Sue started her career in the music business with Virgin Records in the 70s, followed by a stint working for the Sex Pistols. It was her passion for Latin music that brought her to Songlines and she contributed from the very first issue in 1999 until 2012 when she went on to pursue writing about another long-held love, art and photography. Her book, Salsa: Musical Heartbeat of Latin America (Thames & Hudson, 1999), is still widely regarded as one of the definitive books on salsa. ‘It’s going to be hard to really explain what salsa is…’ Willie Colón warned in the foreword. But Sue did it extremely well in the following 170 pages – tracing its geographical roots from Cuba to the US, from Puerto Rico and Colombia back to Africa. Her apologetic beginning shows just how little-known this music was in 1999 and how Sue was at the forefront of bringing it to a wider world. It was a book that was also easy to read, full of illustrations and photographs, showing that Sue, then arts picture editor at the Daily Telegraph, understood that the imagery and iconography were just as important as the music.

Sue was one of the first movers and shakers of the world music scene in the UK and was a regular contributor on radio and various national newspapers – including the Daily Telegraph, London Evening Standard, The Guardian and more. One of life’s great enthusiasts, she will be sorely missed by her family, the many artists she championed and by all her fellow music-loving friends.

A longer obituary will be published in the next issue of Songlines (November 2017, out September 29).


Tags: , , .

WOMAD Charlton Park 2017: Sunday

Posted on August 1st, 2017 in News, Recent posts by .

WOMAD Roy Ayers

Roy Ayers; Photography by Tom Askew-Miller

African stars old and new delight the Charlton Park crowds on the final day

Those who braved the lakes of treacle-like mud, wind, rain and eventually sun were treated to a glorious day of music on Sunday at WOMAD, featuring many newcomers plus a handful of legendary acts such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Roy Ayers and Bonga.

The day began at the Charlie Gillett stage with the BBC Radio 3 and 6Music simulcast broadcast. Presenters Lopa Kothari and Cerys Matthews were the as ever glamorous and entertaining hosts, whose guests included the Mexican chicano group Las Cafeteras from Los Angeles; Msafiri Zawose from Tanzania and the Ska Vengers from India.

The first act on the Open Air stage was Mamadou Diabaté from Burkina Faso and his troupe of balafon (wooden xylophone) players. Perhaps it was their thunderous percussive sound that briefly kept the showers at bay and meant they attracted a big crowd. They were certainly one of several acts from Africa who really shone out.


Mamadou Diabate WOMAD

Mamadou Diabaté in Percussion Mania

On the same stage later that afternoon came Bonga, the resplendent singer from Angola. Now in his 70s, Bonga has recently released his 30th album, yet he’s still a striking figure onstage, with a deeply powerful and soulful voice. The light, semba dance rhythms of his music belie the fact that many of these songs are ones of resistance – in the early 70s his music was banned by the Salazar dictatorship in Angola.

Following on from one veteran’s performance, it was the turn of a new star in the making, Msafiri Zawose who had earlier charmed the crowd during the simulcast. His own solo set was an excellent showcase of this young musician who is keeping the Zawose family musical legacy of gogo music alive. He’s the fifth child of the late Hukwe Zawose and plays the zeze, a two-stringed bowed instrument that resembles the ritti, and the ilimba, a type of thumb piano. His new album, Uhamiaji, comes out at the beginning of September on the Soundway label – look out for more about him in a forthcoming edition of Songlines.

WOMAD Ladysmith Black

Ladysmith Black Mambazo

British folk star Eliza Carthy and her Wayward band put on one of the standout performances of the weekend. Comparisons with Bellowhead are inevitable but Carthy’s 12-piece band proved they are worthy successors of English folk’s finest big band crown. Always a hugely entertaining performer, Carthy is clearly relishing playing with this new outfit who have a punk-like attitude to the folk tradition. Their set included songs from their debut album Big Machine and rapper Dizraeli who joined them onstage for the song ‘You Know Me,’ Carthy’s response to the refugee crisis. Thankfully the torrential downpour at the start of their set was short-lived – “dance between the raindrops!” urged Carthy – and by the time they had finished, the delighted crowd and jubilant band were basking in sunshine. Even a rainbow made a brief appearance as the sun set on a veritably muddy yet enjoyable 35th edition.


Tags: , , , .

« Older Entries