HUGH MASEKELA (MAAXERU-EM-HETEP) PRO-DEMOCRACY CRUSADER + BRILLIANT MUSICIAN FOR THE AGES (MF GALAXY 154)


REPRESENTING SOUTH AFRICAN CULTURE, TRIUMPHING OVER DUTCH-ENGLISH NEO-NAZISM

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What were the weapons in the arsenal of a man who survived a vicious racial dictatorship to emerge as an international ambassador for his people and his craft?
In the case of Hugh Masekela, who returned to the ancestors on January 23, 2018, the answer is two-part: a gramophone, and a Louis Armstrong trumpet.

Born outside Johannesburg in 1939, Masekela began playing music at age three--by way of winding his grandmother's gramophone and singing along. In his career, his own music would fuse South African mbaqanga, bebop, funk, and Nigerian Afrobeat.

His prolific six decades of making music took him around the world and granted him the personal victories of playing with such titans Abdullah Ibrahim, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Zensi Miriam Makeba, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. His single “Grazing in the Grass” in the early 1970s topped the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” on the US charts.

Humble and down-to-earth, yet deeply intelligent with a sweeping international perspective on art, politics, economics, and justice, Masekela was difficult to put in a single category. He didn’t even call himself a jazz musician.
After the Neo-Nazi apartheid regime banned his music, Masekela was forced to live in exile.

He compared the effects of Apartheid to the effects of the European Holocaust against West and Central Africa, in that each operated by “making people lose their identity—that’s why families were broken up, so people lose their roots and self-esteem…. But it’s very difficult to take away in-grown culture from a person. It has failed throughout the ages.”

As if living in exile and the domestic banning of his music weren’t enough repression, his 1969 album Masekela was returned by a North American distributor “because they felt it was too radical.” But that didn’t make him hesitate to work with and befriend other radical artists and activists, including the late, brilliant Nigerian co-founder of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo Kuti.

Masekela eventually toured internationally with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Zensi Miriam Makeba, and Ray Phiri, was featured in the 2003 documentary Amandla!, released the autobiography Still Grazing, and remained active in humanitarian causes such as the Lunchbox Fund which serves meals to students at Soweto schools.

I was privileged to interview Hugh Masekela by telephone in September, 2000 before he performed in Edmonton, and meet him when he arrived. If you go to MFGalaxy.org and click today’s show notes, you’ll find a playlist of Hugh Masekela songs and videos that speak for themselves or accompany parts of our conversation.

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FOR MORE INFORMATION + LINKS

Hugh Masekela: “Stimela” (spoken word + music piece on the exploitation by Dutch and English coal barons of South African miners)



Hugh Masekela and Miriam Makeba: “Soweto Blues” (with commentary)


Hugh Masekela: “Bajabula Bonke” (“The Healing Song” classic version with explanatory prelude)


Hugh Masekela: “Bajabula Bonke” (“The Healing Song” live performance)







Documentary Song of Songololo featuring Mzwakhe Mbuli







Lyrics to “Soweto Blues”
by Stanley Kwesi Todd and Hugh Masekela


The children got a letter from the master
It said, no more Xhosa, Sotho, no more Zulu
Refusing to comply they sent an answer
That's when the policemen came to the rescue

Children were dying, bullets flying
The mothers screaming and crying
The fathers were working in the cities
The evening news brought out all the publicity

Just a little atrocity, deep in the city
Soweto blues, soweto blues
Soweto blues, soweto blues

Benikuphi ma madoda
(Where were the men?)
Abantwana beshaywa
(When the children were throwing stones)

Ngezimbokodo mabedubula abantwana
(When the children were being shot)
Benikhupi na
(Where were you?)

There was a full moon on the golden city
Looking at the door was the man without pity
Accusing everyone of conspiracy
Tightening the curfew, charging people with walking

Yes, the border is where he was awaiting
Waiting for the children, frightened and running
A handful got away but all the others
Hurried their chain without any publicity

Just a little atrocity, deep in the city
Soweto blues, soweto blues
Soweto blues, soweto blues

Benikuphi ma madoda
(Where were the men?)
Abantwana beshaywa
(When the children were throwing stones)

Ngezimbokodo mabedubula abantwana
(When the children were being shot)
Benikhupi na
(Where were you?)

Soweto blues, soweto blues
Soweto blues, abu yethu a mama
Soweto blues, they are killing all the children
Soweto blues, without any publicity

Soweto blues, oh, they are finishing the nation
Soweto blues, while calling it black on black
Soweto blues but everybody knows they are behind it
Soweto blues, without any publicity

Soweto blues, they are finishing the nation
Soweto blues, god, somebody, help
Soweto blues
(Abu yethu a mama)
Soweto blues

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