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Hotep Idris Galeta Takes It Home

By Published: November 15, 2003

AAJ: What made you leave the name Cecil Barnard behind?

HG: I legally changed my name to Hotep Idris Galeta in the late '80s when I embarked upon a personal spiritual quest. In fact, my traditional last name is Galeta, but my father's Christian name was Barnard... so folks used to call me Cecil Barnard, which is the name I used when I exited South Africa.

My personal spiritual journey was also the result of me embracing and exploring aspects within the Islamic mystical traditions called Sufism. In Cape Town, where I grew up, I was exposed to this way of life as a youngster because we have quite a large Muslim community here. There are a few Sufi orders within these socio-religious structures that impacted deeply upon me early in my life. Some of my family belonged to these orders.

It is quite common in South African society, particularly in the communities where I come from, to have family members who are Christians and Muslims. This mystical way of life and philosophy was appealing because music, dance and a holistic approach to life played a central role as the catalyst in the rituals to expand one's consciousness.

The central philosophy also stressed that in essence that all belief systems and humanity are connected to and are guided by one central cosmic intelligence, whatever name we would like to call it. I therefore feel at home in all the major planetary belief systems and religious philosophies, as long as they do not reflect a narrow minded fundamentalist point of view or dogmatic approach to life and the pursuit of happiness. In a nutshell that's how I'd like to leave it.

AAJ: Over the 35 years you've been active in recording, you've covered a lot of ground. In addition to a few excursions outside the boundaries of jazz, you spent a lot of time with Hugh Masekela and Jackie McLean. How did you get together with these two musicians?

HG: I first met Hugh Masekela in the late '50s when he was a member of a group called The Jazz Epistles. This band included Abdullah Ibrahim on piano, Kippie Moketsie on alto sax, Jonas Gwangwa on trombone, Johnny Gertse on bass, and Makaya Ntshoko on drums. I think the fact that because we both came from this South African background, and that we love and play jazz but could also play our own traditional music, was the catalyst for us working so well together.

I've had two stints in Hugh's band. One that began in 1967-68 and the again in 1981-82. It was during this last stint that Rene McLean was in the band and he introduced me to his father, Jackie. To make a long story short, I began teaching at the University of Hartford's Hartt School of Music's African American Music Department in 1985 after being invited by Jackie McLean to become part of the jazz instruction faculty. I also joined his band during that period and stayed with the band and at Hartt for eight years.

AAJ: What was most memorable about your experience with Jackie McLean?

HG: Playing and working with Jackie, who is undoubtedly one of the great living masters of this music, was a real blessing. This was indeed the highlight in my musical development for which I am forever grateful. He is a great musician, a great teacher, and a wonderful human being.

My relationship with Jackie McLean was quite interesting on and off the bandstand. Since both of us were living in Hartford, we use to spend a lot of time together whenever we could. I would go over to his house quite often to hang out. There we would play and talk about music. Jackie was always looking for new approaches to deal with musical expression. Since he also had a great interest in ancient African history, we used to have deep discussions concerning issues related to that that topic. I shared some of my experiences growing up in South Africa with him, particularly those stories that had been passed down to me by the elders in our communities.

He told me this funny story once. Jackie, of course, grew up on Sugar Hill in Harlem. He said that as a teenager. he use to go to Bud Powell's house for lessons after his high school classes every day. On one particular day when Bud opened the door, he looked down the hallway and saw Monk sitting in an armchair, fast asleep. Bud whispered to him, "Monk's sleeping! Come back tomorrow afternoon."

Naturally he returned the next day at the same time, knocked on the door. Bud opened it again, and as he looked down the hallway, there was Monk sitting in the armchair in the same position he saw him the previous day, still fast asleep. Bud said to him, "Monk's still sleeping." It was this sharing of experiences and camaraderie that made our relationship so special.

AAJ: I think it's important for you to touch on the emotions you experienced upon your return to South Africa. What was it like to come back, and how well did you adjust?

HG: I was sad to leave the band in 1991, but I really wanted to come back to South Africa when I saw that the regime was buckling under internal and external pressure and that a new era was at hand. Coming back home was an emotional experience. I had been gone for quite a long time and had to get used to a different mindset which sometimes made me feel that I was from a different galaxy. It was difficult at first, but I am now fully integrated back into the culture.

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