Posts Tagged ‘south africa’

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.

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Live | Inala featuring Ladysmith Black Mambazo on tour

Posted on September 23rd, 2014 in News, Recent posts, Reviews by .


A unique collaboration between choreographer Mark Baldwin, dancers from The Royal Ballet and the South African choral legends

South Africa’s iscathamiya (a capella) group Ladysmith Black Mambazo need little introduction. Since featuring on Paul Simon’s Graceland album back in 1986, they have become one of their country’s most famous musical exports. They’ve also proved themselves masters at collaboration, performing with the likes of Taj Mahal, Stevie Wonder and even the queen of country, Dolly Parton.

LBM’s latest project Inala is billed as ‘a Zulu Ballet.’ It’s an ambitious work with choreography by Rambert artistic director Mark Baldwin, music by composer and pianist Ella Spira, stunning dancing from 11 young dancers – and of course, the joyful singing of LBM. The programme calls it a ‘somewhat abstract visceral experience’ – a fairly accurate description, given that there is no storyline to speak of. Instead, it’s a series of evocative vignettes portraying life – both rural and urban – in South Africa.

The show opens at sunrise with the cast of dancers resplendent in a variety of exotic bird headdresses, accompanied by some lovely, comedic, hen pecking impersonations from the nine LBM members. Some of the scenes are frankly baffling – are they squatting mosquitoes or rounding up bees for honey? No matter; indeed once I stop trying to figure out what is going on, the sheer exuberance of the dancing and soulfulness of the singing completely wins me over.

LBM are a constant presence onstage, either gently swaying in unison, performing their trademark shuffling, or engaging in some impressive leg kicks together with the professional dancers, much to the delight of the audience. One small gripe is that, besides the percussion, the piano accompaniment jars and feels at times superfluous. The best moments come with  LBM doing what they do best – simply singing altogether in deep and soulful harmony.

All in all, a highly enjoyable evening and a show that is bound to yet further boost LBM’s already sizeable fanbase.

Inala is currently on tour in the UK until October 4. See for details


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Preview | The Future Sounds of Mzansi

Posted on June 23rd, 2014 in News, Recent posts by .


Spoek Mathambo releases the trailer for his documentary on electronic music in South Africa, The Future Sound of Mzansi, after two years of research and exploration with film-maker Lebogang Rasethaba. 

“Our mission was simple – to meet up with some of our heroes, colleagues, competition, and co-conspirators… an ever potent gang of electronic music pioneers sculpting The Future Sound of Mzansi.” This is what Spoek Mathambo had in the trailer for his upcoming documentary, two years in the making with Lebogang Rasethaba, on South Africa’s electronic music scene.

In fact, it is a little more complicated than Spoek makes out. A description accompanying the trailer, released last week ahead of the promotional cut screening at Sonar, Barcelona, explains why this is more than a look at the music scene. The documentary ‘aims to explore, express, and interrogating [sic] South Africa’s cultural landscape… 20 years into its democracy.’ The documentary looks at music as a medium through which a country steeped in poverty, crime, and injustice can envision a future ‘blindingly beautiful and bursting at the seams with youth energy and talent.

Mujave, Black Coffee and Christian Tiger School will feature along with various other electronic artists from across Mzansi (the colloquial Xhosa term for South Africa), as Spoek and Rasethaba explore everything from deep house to glitch hop, kwaito-house, township tech, sghubu sapitori (yes, really!) to dubstep; super khawuleza and shangaan electro. As an advertisement for the film puts it: ‘Welcome to the apartheid after-party.

Listen to The Future Sound of Mzansi Mixtape by Spoek


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New Spoek Mathambo video: ‘Awufuni’

Posted on August 15th, 2013 in News, Recent posts by .

Spoek Mathambo 1 (2012)

Colourful South African tribute from Soweto singer

Eccentric Soweto-born singer, rapper and producer Spoek Mathambo recently unveiled his latest visual creation as part of Studio Africa’s upcoming music video releases. Inspired by 60s South African female group Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, the track samples ‘Awufuni Ukulandela Na?’

Last year’s widely acclaimed Father Creeper (Sub Pop) was full of Spoek’s self-proclaimed ‘township techno’; a unique blend of rap, kwaito and electro beats.

Spoek Mathambo – ‘Awufuni’

Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje – ‘Awufuni Ukulandela Na?’

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