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Hugh Masekela Mix

Emily Jones By

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Hugh Masekela passed away just a few weeks ago at the age of 78, leaving a powerful legacy of music and activism. This month's mix showcases ten key moments in his musical life, handpicked from his 40 albums. Those moments range from playing in The Jazz Epistles at just 20 years old, to afrobeat with Fela Kuti, to what was to be his final album, No Borders.

Beginning the mix with perhaps the toughest period of his career, the early 70's found Masekela exiled from South Africa and struggling with alcohol and cocaine addiction. But in 1973 he toured Africa and collaborated with Fela Kuti, forming the band Hedzoleh Soundz along with fellow South African exile Dudu Pukwana. ("Languta," featured later, is the only Hedzoleh Soundz track written by Masekela.)

Next up, "Shuffle & Bow" is a gritty, bluesy track from 2016's No Borders, while "Soweto Blues" is somewhat less bluesy but full of melancholy. It was the first of Masekela's two notable anti-apartheid protest songs, written by the trumpeter for his former wife Miriam Makeba to perform, it is about the Soweto uprising of 1976 which led to the police opening fire on children.

Masekela's version of "Grazing in the Grass" was one of his first major hits, topping the USA's Billboard charts in 1968. The full-length, live version of "Stimela" is perhaps one of his most powerful and affecting songs. Raw and evocative, it highlights Masekela's ability for musical storytelling with chilling words about the coal trains, which are only captured in the live recording (as opposed to the studio versions), and now give us the opportunity to hear him speak once more. For an audience ready for an evening of entertainment this tune often came as a shock to the system but it epitomises Masekela's passion for raising awareness of some of the harsh realities of African life.

Leaping back in time to Masekela's musical beginnings, this version of the jazz standard "Delilah" is taken from the first album by a South African jazz band, The Jazz Epistles' Verse 1 (released 1959), which featured pianist Dollar Brand (now known as Abdullah Ibrahim), Masekela, and trombonist Tony Gwangwa. Hugh plays trumpet rather than flugelhorn, but his dexterity can be clearly heard. After leaving South Africa, Masekela moved to a more heavily African-influenced sound thanks to the advice of Dizzy Gillespie and Louis Armstrong.

1986 saw his second major protest song "Bring Him Back Home" for Nelson Mandela, and this month's mix draws to a close with a beautiful solo from "Tapera," again from Hugh Masekela's final album No Borders.

Playlist

  • "Rekpete" Hedzoleh Soundz (Blue Thumb Chisa)
  • "Happy Mama" Hope (Triloka Records)
  • "Shuffle & Bow" No Borders (Universal)
  • "Soweto Blues" You Told Your Mama Not To Worry (Casablanca)
  • "Grazing in the Grass" Grazing in the Grass: The Best of Hugh Masekela (Sony)
  • "Stimela (Coal Train)" Hope (Triloka Records)
  • "Delilah" The Jazz Epistles, The Complete Recordings (Trunk Records)
  • "Languta" Hedzoleh Sounds (Blue Thumb Chisa)
  • "Mandela (Bring Him Home)" Tomorrow (Warner)
  • "Tapera" No Borders (Universal)

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