This week’s spotlight falls upon the legendary trumpeter and anti-apartheid activist, Hugh Masekela, who has recently passed away aged 78.
The South-African musician was one of the world’s best horn players, and with a style based on the music from his home nation, he pioneered the sound of African Jazz. Exiled from his own country for over 30 years, he blended his sound with influence from across the continent and the world, to create a range of music from disco-pop to fiery political jazz.
Under the guidance of Dizze Gillespie and Louis Armstrong, he aspired to create his own unique style that would preach a message of freedom to all that listened. His family have said he lived an “ebullient and joyous life”, much like the beat of his music.
Here’s a little introduction to the Masekela ethos:
Grazing in the Grass:
Easy going Afro rhythms and big band flourishes lure the ear into what is a forerunner of the soul era. “Grazing in the Grass” is an instrumental track that unexpectedly topped the US charts for two months in the 1960s.
Afro Beat Blues:
The trumpeter and flugelhorn player occasionally dipped his toes in the funky pot, producing disco tunes like this. The lyrics are emblazed with African pride and lead the way for African artists to blend their musical motifs with Western influence
Mace and Grenades:
Following the success of Grazing in the Grass, his record company aspired for more commercial success. Masekela, still exiled from his home country and angered by apartheid, refused to conform to the demands of contemporary style. Although the furious Masekela album failed to register public appeal, it does include some of his most experimental and politically charged music, such as this.
Coal Train (Stimela):
The powerful elegy to African migrants who worked the mines of South Africa is one of his most fiercely political songs. Screaming guitars, pained horns and the rhythm of the coal train have beaten this track into the heart of Masekela’s admirers.
Introduced in exile, Masekela greatly influenced the holy grail of South African music, otherwise known as Letta Mbulu. Although she covered much of his music, this easy listening collaboration provides a delightful cherry to their illustrious careers and hails to their South African routes.
By Marcus Spruit
Image by Nicole Julia Welch