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Hugh Masekela, a beginner’s guide

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

Hugh-Masekela-©Brett-Rubin-Free

Hugh Masekela has died at the age of 78. We publish this guide to his life and music as a tribute… (photo: Brett Rubin)

Diane Coetzer traces the impressive career of the hugely influential South African horn player

When Hugh Masekela’s recording of ‘Grazing in the Grass’ streaked to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968, it brought the trumpeter international fame on a scale unprecedented for a South African. The cut, which appeared on the album The Promise of a Future, had been issued by Chisa (Zulu slang for ‘Hot’), a label Masekela had started with producer Stewart Levine in the mid-60s. Opening with the sound of Masekela playing on a cowbell with two drumsticks, ‘Grazing in the Grass’ featured Bruce Langhorne’s easy-going guitar work but it was Masekela’s buoyant horn, joyfully carrying with it a distinctive African styling, that cast a spell over American listeners.

Still, Masekela’s stunning success with the Philemon Hou-composed instrumental was bittersweet for the 29-year-old exile. Spooked by a close call with the apartheid regime’s special branch police and shocked at the massacre of peaceful demonstrators in Sharpeville in March, Masekela had finally been able to get a passport in May 1960 and boarded a plane for London, and, a few months later, the US. Encouraged and championed by Miriam Makeba, who was living in New York, Masekela left behind a loving family who had watched their son and brother’s early interest in music develop into a full-blown obsession to be a trumpet player.

In 1953, while a teenager at Johannesburg’s St Peter’s boarding school, he’d seen Kirk Douglas in Young Man with a Horn and had wasted no time in persuading Father Trevor Huddleston, his school superintendent and a leading anti-apartheid activist, to help him get his first trumpet. Over the next seven years Masekela honed his playing skills with the school band and the Huddlestone Jazz Band, and was soon gigging with the Merry Makers’ Orchestra where he learned how to hold long notes and play confidently between mbaqanga grooves. He took up with the African Jazz and Variety Revue, which was taking township jazz across the country, and played trumpet in King Kong, the first ‘all-African jazz opera’ featuring Makeba in the female lead. In the months before Masekela’s flight into exile, he had also formed The Jazz Epistles with Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand), Kippie Moeketsi, Jonas Gwangwa and Johnny Gertze – in the process creating what is still the most thrilling line-up of jazz musicians in South Africa’s history. The band’s sole record, Jazz Epistle Verse 1, remains a dazzlingly original showcase of modern jazz.

On the day of Masekela’s arrival in New York he went to the Jazz Gallery on East Eighth Street to see Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. With the ever-generous Makeba as the link, Masekela had been corresponding with Gillespie while still in South Africa, and the American trumpeter later took him to another club to meet Charles Mingus and Max Roach. On the way back uptown at the end of the night, he stopped at the Half Note where John Coltrane was performing with a new group.

This intoxicating introduction to the American jazz scene set the tone for Masekela’s years in exile, that saw him blot out the aching for his family and country by unabashedly embracing the musical possibilities offered by his new home. He met Levine during his second year at the Manhattan School of Music and soon began getting session and club work. With Harry Belafonte’s encouragement, he began recording Trumpet Africaine: The New Beat from South Africa – the first of what is now a catalogue of 44 solo recordings. Masekela hated his debut, dubbing the record a “disaster.” He quickly realised that future recordings should be based on repertoire drawn from the music he’d been raised on and that he’d played back home. He also reignited his songwriting, composing the mbaqanga bebop track ‘U, Dwi’ for his second album, Grrr, which additionally saw Masekela branching out into singing on tracks like ‘Umaningi Bona’.

From his teenage days as an emerging musician in South Africa, Masekela had never shied away from collaboration and he ramped this up in the US. It’s Masekela’s trumpet solo you can hear on The Byrds’ hit single ‘So You Want to be a Rock’n’Roll Star’ – the last in their original line-up. He worked with Louis Armstrong, Belafonte, Gillespie, Fela Kuti, Marvin Gaye and Herb Alpert (on the 1978 album Herb Alpert & Hugh Masekela), among others. Together with Levine, Masekela organised Zaire 74 – a music festival companion to George Foreman and Muhammad Ali’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle.’ The trumpeter later joined Paul Simon when he toured Graceland in 1987, playing his political anthem ‘Mandela (Bring Him Back Home)’ to audiences across the world.

Musically, Masekela matched his jazz rigour with a magpie’s eye for musical forms that were an easy fit for his playing style and taste. The 1971 album Hugh Masekela & The Union of South Africa was flavoured with Nigerian highlife and soul, and his work with Ghanaian band Hedzoleh Soundz on the 1973 album, Masekela Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz, spliced Afrobeat with Masekela’s free-floating trumpet. This wide-ranging curiosity and appetite for different music was formed in Masekela’s youth. “I’ve had a very rich life, because Johannesburg was a melting pot of especially migrant labourers from all over southern and central Africa,” Masekela told me a few years ago. “So I was luckier than most human beings to grow up in an environment where, on weekends, you would have a choice of seeing Mozambican or Tsonga people while in another part of town, on an open veld, you could see Zulus, Sothos, Twanas, Namibians, Malawians, Zimbabweans and Botswana folk.”

By his own admission Masekela was not equipped to handle the success that ‘Grazing in the Grass’ brought. ‘I became obsessed with the pleasures of the flesh, which only led to sleepless nights, mind-boggling immorality, dishonesty, broken hearts, and hung-over mornings,’ he writes in Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela, the hugely readable autobiography he co-authored with D Michael Cheers. His return to South Africa in September 1990, after 30 years in exile, did little to end Masekela’s addictions and in 1997 he entered rehab in the UK.

These days Masekela is the recipient of multiple awards, including South Africa’s highest order, The Order of Ikhamanga, as well as a number of honorary degrees and doctorates. Although now in his late 70s, he’s still recording – his most recent record, No Borders, earned him a South African Music Award for Best Adult Contemporary Album.

His 60-year-plus live performing career has, however, been put on hold with news that Masekela – who has been in treatment for prostate cancer since 2008 – recently had an emergency operation to remove a tumour. ‘I have cancelled my commitments for the immediate future as I will need all my energy to continue this fight against prostate cancer,’ he said in a statement issued on October 6. This includes his upcoming UK date at the EFG London Jazz Festival where he was due to perform with Abdullah Ibrahim.

Even as he battles “this stealthy disease,” Masekela’s driving passion remains “making heritage visible,” as witnessed by the annual Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival, which takes place in Soweto in early November. For the first time in its four-year run, the festival’s namesake didn’t collaborate with the line-up of talent, which this year included BCUC, Johnny Cradle and Oliver Mtukudzi. But his commitment to the event, and other heritage-based initiatives, continues. He says, “I advise every kid to check out their past because without a past you are in limbo.”

BEST ALBUMS

Hugh-Masekela---Grr-Cover

Grrr

(MGM, 1966)

After the disappointment he felt in Trumpet Africaine, Masekela settled into his own musical style for his second album, confidently giving mbaqanga an emotional complexity on tracks like ‘Sharpeville’.

 

Hugh-Masekela--The-Promise-of-a-Future-Cover-

The Promise of a Future

(Chisa, 1968)

The No 1 hit ‘Grazing in the Grass’ featured in this gorgeous set, which also included ‘Vuca (Wake Up)’, a self-penned, rootsy track that convincingly combined Masekela’s vocal and trumpet-playing.

 

Hugh-Masekela--I-am-Not-Afraid-Cover

I Am Not Afraid

(Chisa/Blue Thumb, 1974)

Recorded in LA with Hedzoleh Soundz, the seven-track record opens with a heady version of the Dizzy Gillespie’s ‘Night in Tunisia’ but the album’s emotional heart is ‘Stimela’, Masekela’s epic lament for southern Africa’s migrant labour force.

 

Hugh-Masekela-Presents-the-CHISA-Years--1965-1975-(Rare-&-Unreleased)-Cover

Hugh Masekela Presents the CHISA Years: 1965-1975 (Rare & Unreleased)

(BBE Records, 2006)

Fourteen lost tracks of sheer musical joy are gathered together on this release featuring Masekela playing with Letta Mbulu, Johannesburg Street Band, Ojah and others. A Top of the World review in #36.

 

Hugh-Masekela---No-Borders-Cover

No Borders

(Semopa, 2016)

Poignant and powerful, Masekela summons his very best on his latest record: a raging vocal track against slavery (‘Shuffle & Bow’), superb horn playing (‘Shango’), and a set of terrific collaborations – ‘Tapera’ with Oliver Mtukudzi especially shines. A Top of the World this issue, see p44.

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Win flights to Morocco and tickets to the Essaouira Gnawa and World Music Festival!

Posted on December 8th, 2017 in News, Recent posts by .

 

Essaouira--©A3-Communication-K.-Tibari

Courtesy of the Moroccan Tourist Board, we have a pair of return flights and full festival passes to the Essaouira Gnawa and World Music Festival in 2018 to give away!

The colourful world of the Gnawa is awash with rumours of spirits and mystery, and recent years have seen it grow out of the hidden courtyards and onto the world stage. In the January/February (#134) edition of Songlines, Andy Morgan travels to Morocco to meet the masters and tap into its brotherhood.

In June this year, Essaouira’s now world-famous Gnawa and World Music Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary. Tens of thousands of Moroccans crowded into Place Moulay Hassan to see some of the greatest Gnawa maalem (masters) fusing their art with the music of Carlinhos Brown, Ismaël Lô, Lucky Peterson and others.

We’re delighted to offer one lucky winner a pair of return flights and full festival passes to the 2018 edition of the festival.

Click here to enter the competition.

The Essaouira Gnawa and World Music Festival takes place June 21-24, 2018. For more information, visit www.festival-gnaoua.net

Terms & conditions: The tickets are for two people travelling together and must be used specifically for travel to the 2018 Essaouira Gnawa and World Music Festival (June 21-24). Flights are for London-Essaouira-London in economy class and always subject to availability. The tickets are non-transferable and have no cash value. Travel must originate in the UK. This prize is non-negotiable, non-refundable and does not include insurance, accommodation, transport to and from the airport and any sustenance during the stay. Reservations for the flights must be made at least 60 days before departure. See p19 for our standard competition rules and deadline.

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Culture Ireland: Music from Ireland 2018 – Bonus CD

Posted on December 7th, 2017 in Recent posts by .

Screen Shot 2017-12-07 at 10.15.16

This bonus CD is exclusively available with the January/February (#134) edition of Songlines

This year Showcase Scotland, Celtic Connections’ industry event, has selected Ireland as the spotlight country. Given Irish artists’ long-standing participation at the Glasgow festival, it’s appropriate that a new generation of emerging Irish artists take centre stage as Celtic Connections celebrates its 25th anniversary. This compilation, specially compiled for Songlines, celebrates the diversity and artistry of young musicians working across the folk and traditional genres, stretching boundaries and producing the new, unmissable music of today.

The Showcase Scotland participation at Celtic Connections is part of Culture Ireland’s special GB18 programme: Promoting Irish Arts in Britain, a year-long programme of activity presenting Irish artists across Britain and celebrating our cultural links with Ireland’s nearest neighbour.

This 12-track CD features many of Ireland’s top emerging artists.

 

Tracklisting:

1. Daoirí Farrell - ‘Pat Rainey’,  True Born Irishman (2016)

2. Wallis Bird- ‘Change’, Home (2016)

3. Aoife Scott- ‘All Along the Wild Atlantic Way’, Carry the Day (2016)

4. The Young Folk - ‘Home’, First Sign of Morning (2016)

5. Lorcán Mac Mathúna - ‘A Grey Eye’, The Arrows that Murder Sleep (2015)

6. NOTIFY- ‘In Continuum’, InConcept (2015)

7. Aoife Scott - ‘Down by the Shelleybanks’, Carry the Day (2016)

8. NOTIFY - ‘The Aud’, Previously unreleased (2017)

9. Daoirí Farrell - ‘Van Diemen’s Land’, True Born Irishman (2016)

10. The Young Folk- ‘First Sign of Morning’, First Sign of Morning (2016)

11. Wallis Bird - ‘Seasons’, Home (2016)

12. Preab Meadar - ‘Séadnadh Mór (The Lion and Fox)’, Preab Meadar (2014)

These artists perform at Showcase Scotland (January 31- February 4 2018) during Celtic Connections (January 18- February 4) as part of Culture Ireland GB18: Promoting Irish Arts in Britain

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Top of the World albums: Songlines #134 (January/February 2018)

Posted on December 6th, 2017 in Features, Recent posts by .

Here is our selection of the top ten new releases reviewed in the January/February 2018 issue of Songlines. Tracks from each of these albums are included on the free cover-CD with issue #134.

To buy the new issue or to find out more about subscribing to Songlines, please visit: www.songlines.co.uk/subs

 

La-Chiva-Gantiva---Despegue

La Chiva Gantiva
Despegue
Flowfish
An album of kick-ass cumbia, fiery combinations of rock and hip-hop, crowd-pleasing anthems and impassioned raps, as heard on this opening track. You’ll be dancing along in no time.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Maryam-Saleh,-Mauric-Louca,-Tamer-Abu-Ghazaleh---Lekhfa-Cover

Maryam Saleh, Maurice Louca & Tamer Abu Ghazaleh
Lekhfa
Mostakell
Five stars for this innovative album with influences from all sides of Arabic music, from Sufi music to electro-chaabi.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Boubacar-Traoré---Dounia-Tabolo-Cover

Boubacar Traoré
Dounia Tabolo
Lusafrica
Recorded in a studio deep in Louisiana, this album features some talented guests including Cedric Watson and Leyla McCalla, who help make Traoré’s blues more profound than ever.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Béla-Fleck-&-Abigail-Washburn---Echo-in-the-Valley-Cover

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn
Echo in the Valley
Rounder
Washburn’s striking voice takes the lead here while the duo’s banjos provide atmospheric accompaniment.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Belem-&-the-MeKanics-Cover

Belem & the MeKanics
Belem & the MeKanics
Iglectic
A splendidly eccentric album from this duo and their unusual mechanical band of marvels. This track showcases the elegiac quality of the accordion, sonorous cello and Walter Hus’ musical machine.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Canzoniere-Grecanico-Salentino---Canzoniere-Cover

Canzoniere Grecanico Salentino
Canzoniere
Ponderosa
An album that sees the pizzica superstars set about combining homegrown sounds with multicultural influences.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Ibeyi---Ash-Cover

Ibeyi
Ash
XL Recordings
This excellent second album from the French-Cuban sisters features captivating vocals (that particularly shine on ‘Valé’), sophisticated use of samples, giant Yoruba beats and theatrical presence.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Kapela-Maliszow---Wiejski-Dzez-Cover

Kapela Maliszów
Wiejski Dżez
Unzipped Fly Records
Talent runs in the family as this father and his children perform wild mazurkas, polkas, haunting dances and original tunes in an album of music rooted in vanishing Polish traditions.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Tootard---Laissez-Passer-Cover

TootArd
Laissez Passer
Glitterbeat
The bouncy and catchy title-track has clear desert influences and is named after the temporary travel documents given to those living in Israeli-occupied Syrian territory, the Golan Heights.
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

 

Maya-Youssef---Syrian-Dreams-Cover

Maya Youssef
Syrian Dreams
Harmonia Mundi
The virtuosic ability of qanun player Maya Youssef is clear both on this track and on the entire dream-like album, which she describes as her ‘personal journey through the six years of war in Syria.’
Amazon | iTunes | Spotify

Pick up the January/February 2018 issue of Songlines to enjoy our Top of the World cover-CD, which contains tracks from each of the albums above. This issue also includes an additional bonus CD: ‘Culture Ireland: Music from Ireland 2018′. To find out more about subscribing to Songlines, visit: songlines.co.uk/subs

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