Hotep Idris Galeta Takes It Home
“ Today in a democratic South Africa, jazz is thriving in an environment of freedom and racial reconciliation. ”
Despite more than three decades on wax, pianist Hotep Idris Galeta has largely escaped the public eye. Perhaps that's not too much of a surprise, given his rather unassuming nature and the fact that he's never had much of an itch for the spotlight.
Galeta (b. June 7, 1941) grew up in Cape Town, South Africa. During his teenage years he was drawn into a very active nucleus of South African jazz musicians. Abdullah Ibrahim (then Dollar Brand) served as an early mentor; Galeta performed with local stars including Chris McGregor, Dudu Pukwana, Johnny Gertze, and Makaya Ntoshoko. But by the turn of the '60s, South Africa had institutionalized apartheid and instituted martial law, driving most of these musicians abroad.
After a year in London with a number of South African expatriates, Galeta traveled to the United States, where he expanded his horizons through both formal and informal education. For two years in the late '60s, he played in Hugh Masekela's band, including a notable performance at the notorious 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival. His musical journey took him many places, including a later stint with Masekela and a productive association with Jackie McLean. He served on the faculty of the University of Hartford's Hartt College of Music in Connecticut and continues to emphasize music education to this day.
Among notable recordings from the '90s, Mario Pavone's Toulon Days stands as a high water mark. It features the inspired composition "Monk In Soweto" (to resurface later) and brought a young and unsigned Joshua Redman to the public eye. Around this time, Galeta finally returned to South Africa optimistic about country's future after 30 intervening years of apartheid.
His third record as a leader, Malay Tone Poem , came out last year on South Africa's Sheer Sound label. Produced by Zim Ngqawana and featuring the Safro Jazz Quintet, this date includes ten original compositions. A tour de force of creative post bop, Malay Tone Poem was recognized as a three-way nominee for the South African Music Awards. It pointedly signals the vision and potential of both Hotep Idris Galeta and contemporary South African jazz.
This interview was conducted by email in June, 2003.
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All About Jazz: Your early exposure to jazz musicians in Cape Town played a major role in your musical development. Whom do you remember most vividly from this period? How did these experiences fit into the situation in South Africa at the time?
Hotep Galeta: In the fifties there were quite a number of older musicians who influenced my early jazz education. The bassist Lamie Zukufu exposed me to the music of Bud Powell and Bird when I was sixteen years old.
As a young musician I later met Dollar Brand (now known as Abdullah Ibrahim), who also played a significant role in my early musical development, both as a friend and as a role model. He was the one who exposed me to the music of Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins. Unlike his laid back style of playing today, Abdullah's music during that period was extremely avant-garde, fiery and revolutionary, due to his artistic reactions to the oppressive political conditions that started to evolve at the beginning of legislated draconian apartheid racist-fascist laws.
Most of us at that time played in the hard bop tradition, with an added mixture of South African traditional music thrown in. I was seriously into the music of Bobby Timmons and Horace Silver. I also hung out with the pianist Chris McGregor and the saxophonist Dudu Pukwana a lot. These two musicians opened my ears to the music of Herbie Nichols and Ornette Coleman, which changed my musical concepts quite drastically.
By that time I had, like many others, become increasingly involved with the underground struggle against the regime.
AAJ: Things were very hot in South Africa in 1961. In the aftermath of Sharpeville, tensions were painfully high. Everyone was leaving. How did you get out of the country, and what sort of South African community did you find abroad in London and elsewhere?
HG: When things became too hot, a lot of us departed. I left by boat for Southampton, England in 1961 under an assumed name with the assistance of underground connections. This was shortly after the Sharpeville massacre, the first state of emergency, the banning of the ANC and other political parties, and the imposition of martial law.
When I arrived in England I headed for London, where I hooked up with some members of the cast of the South African jazz opera "King Kong" that had been playing at one of the theatres in London's West End for the past year. This eased the feelings of loneliness in a strange environment.
I stayed in London for about a year. In fact that is where I heard my first live American jazz. I attended a John Coltrane concert one evening that featured Reggie Workman on bass and Eric Dolphy on alto and bass clarinet. "My Favorite Things"... I was in heaven!
I arrived in New York in the summer of 1962. Somehow I slowly lost touch with the musicians from home. Chris McGregor and Dudu Pukwana eventually left South Africa a few years later with their quintet called the Blue Notes, They were to create a huge impact upon the English and European jazz scene with their fiery brand of South African avant-garde jazz.