Editors' pick

Hugh Masekela

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Editorial Review

As a child, Hugh Masekela said his ambition was to "live inside the gramophone, so I could be with all those people in there."

But it wasn't just love of music that made the future trumpet player, flugelhornist and singer want to escape reality -- it was the infamous South African apartheid system of government that was first put into place in 1948, when Masekela was 9 years old.

Masekela grew up to be one of his country's most famous jazz musicians and, later, world-fusion pioneers, incorporating indigenous musical styles, such as the hypnotic and lilting mbaqanga, with improvisation and funk. But politics was always at the heart of Masekela's dancing jams.

"The general fabric of thinking of all South Africans has always been protest music because we've had 400 years of war," Masekela said. "In South Africa, we have very few songs about the weather or love."

But underpinning these fight songs were booty-friendly grooves. "Almost every band was a dance band, because dancing is a major part of our music," Masekela said.

"You can't do it without dancing -- even when you're protesting. Dizzy [Gillespie] used to tell me, 'Man, you come from a nation of dancing fools. I want to be a part in that revolution.'"

But Masekela's political leanings, and the brutality of apartheid, forced him into exile in the early 1960s. Masekela remained away from South Africa until 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

By the time apartheid ended in 1994, Masekela was recovering from a near lifetime of alcohol and drug abuse, recharging his creative batteries as well as his business developments in order to invest in the new South Africa.

One of those companies is the revitalization of his old record label, Chissa, which just licensed "Live at the Market Theatre," a disc of greatest hits, to Times Square Records in the U.S.

"A lot of money was put into destroying our culture and to impoverishing us and taking away our self-esteem," Masekela said. We have to reclaim ownership of our culture, of our dignity, of our self-esteem."

--Christopher Porter (July 12, 2007, Express)

Mike Joyce reviewed Hugh Masekela's 2007 album "Live at the Market Theatre" for The Washington Post:

In the liner notes to his new live CD, Hugh Masekela is described as "a great statesman, an artist extraordinaire, a cultural activist, a living legend and a treasure not only for South Africa but the African continent." All true, of course, but it's impossible to listen to "Live at the Market Theatre" without appreciating Masekela's enduring power and presence on the world stage. Oh, and another thing: He remains one heck of an entertainer.

Marking the renowned Johannesburg venue's 30th anniversary, this double-CD set reveals the ease with which Masekela gathers an audience in the palm of his hand before turning in a thoroughly engaging performance -- soulful, playful, romantic, joyous and inspirational by turns. Though his road-worn voice shows its age, Masekela is still capable of stirring painful memories and yearning emotions, as illustrated by his performances of "Stimela," "Thuma Mina" and "District Six." And, of course, anyone wishing to hear him galvanize an audience with words of freedom and affirmation need look no further than "Mandela."

Many of the album's treats, though, are purely musical, thanks to colorful arrangements featuring Masekela playing flugelhorn with an impressive array of South African musicians. He sprays a shower of eighth notes over an undulating funk groove on "The Boy's Doin' It," soulfully accents the languid groove on "Thuma Mina" and vibrantly refreshes the classic "Grazing in the Grass." Though there's no substitute for seeing Masekela in concert, this 15-track collection comes awfully close.