Like his compatriot and close contemporary Abdullah Ibrahim, Hugh Masekela has a 24-carat discography which stretches back six decades and digs deep into the taproot of jazz. Ibrahim is still with ushe has a new album scheduled for June 2019but Masekela passed in January 2018. Among the several solid Masekela compilations on the market, this 3-CD set is the most welcome. It deals with the most prolific phase of Masekela's career and brings back into circulation material from landmark albums which have either never been reissued or which were last reissued twenty or thirty years ago. Two of the most important albumsIntroducing Hedzolleh Soundz (Chisa/Blue Thumb, 1973) and I Am Not Afraid (Chisa/Blue Thumb, 1974)are included in their entirety. If Masekela '66'76 did no more than make these titles available again it would justify its existence. But it does much more.
The set focuses on Masekela's first years in the US, to which he exiled himself from apartheid South Africa in 1960, and the albums he made for Chisa Records, the label he set up with Stewart Levine in 1965. Bronx-born Levine studied with Masekela at the Manhattan School of Music and became his lifelong friend and longtime manager and producer. Drawn from eleven of Masekela's Chisa releases, the 37-tracks tracks on Masekela '66'76 were chosen by Masekela and Levine in the year prior to Masekela's passing. There is not one dud among them.
The first four albums are: The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela (Chisa/UNI, 1966), Hugh Masekela Is Alive And Well At the Whiskey (Chisa/UNI, 1967), The Promise Of A Future (Chisa/UNI, 1968) and Masekela (Chisa/UNI, 1969). Overall, these albums, made with American musicians, focus less on Masekela's trumpet playing and more on his singing and songwriting, which ranges from loving evocations of African life and culture to uncompromising social and political critiques.
The next three albumsReconstruction (Chisa, 1970), Hugh Masekela And The Union Of South Africa (Chisa, 1971) and Home Is Where The Music Is (Chisa/Blue Thumb, 1972), all three last reissued decades agoare more evenly balanced between instrumentals and vocals and feature fellow South African expatriates including singers Letta Mbulu and Caiphus Semenya, trombonist Mosa Jonas Gwangwa and alto saxophonist Dudu Pukwana.
On the final four albumsthe aforementioned Introducing Hedzolleh Soundz and I Am Not Afraid plus The Boy's Doin' It (Chisa/Casablanca, 1975) and Colonial Man (Chisa/Casablanca, 1976)Masekela is accompanied by a rolling lineup of Ghanaian and Nigerian musicians. Mostly instrumental, these four albums are amongst the most outstanding releases in Masekela's career. Introducing Hedzolleh Soundz has never been reissued. I Am Not Afraid was last reissued in 1980.
Much of Masekela's music, like apartheid-era black South African jazz and pop in general, projected a defiant optimism in the face of the barbarous political system from which it emerged (a combination of fortitude and jubilance which Masekela's work retained right up until his passing). This quality, along with instances of raw anger, courses through Masekela '66'76. It was perhaps never more joyously expressed than on The Promise Of A Future's "Grazing In The Grass," a straight-ahead mbhaqanga instrumental which was a Number 1 single on the US pop charts for 3 weeks in summer 1968. Like so much of Masekela's music, it lifts the spirit every time it is heard.
Masekela defied music business expectations by following the breakout success of "Grazing In The Grass" with the explicitly political and fiercely confrontational Masekela, a furious attack on racism and economic exploitation in South Africa and the US. Tracks such as Masekela's "Mace And Grenades," "Boeremusiek" and "Gold," along with South African saxophonist Kippie Moeketsi's "Blues For Huey," inspired by Black Panther co-founder Huey P. Newton, scared off all but the most radical US radio DJs and the album was a commercial failure. All four tracks are included on Masekela '66'76 along with "Gafsa," written by Dollar Brand (as Abdullah Ibrahim was then known) and Masekela's "Is There Anybody Out There." Masekela has never been rereleased, so having these half dozen tracks back in circulation is an important event.
Introducing Hedzolleh Soundz is the album which launched Masekela's collaborations with the Ghanaian roots-modernist band Hedzolleh Soundz, who Masekela encountered in early 1973 while visiting Ghana. Recorded at the EMI studio in Lagos, Nigeria (then the most technically well-equipped studio in West Africa) the album is an irresistible blend of highlife, township jazz, rock and funk, way ahead of its time. The Crusaders' Joe Sample and Stix Hooper join the band for the follow-up, I Am Not Afraid, upping the jazz-funk quotient. Tracks from The Boy's Doin' It and Colonial Man maintain the West Africa-meets-South Africa groove.
It all adds up to three and three-quarter hours of utterly spellbinding listening. This is a memorial worthy of its subject.
CD1: The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela: A Felicadee; Why Are You Blowing My Mind; She Doesn’t Write; Do Me So La So So; Ha Lese Le Di Khana; What Is Wrong With Groovin’; Child Of The Earth. Hugh Masekela Is Alive And Well At The Whiskey: Son Of Ice Bag; Coincidence. The Promise Of A Future: Grazing In The Grass; Bajubula Bonke (The Healing Song); Vuca; There Are Seeds To Sow. Masekela: Mace And Grenades; Boermusiek; Gold; Blues For Huey; Gafsa; Is There Anybody Out There.
CD2: Reconstruction: You Keep Me Hangin’ On; Woza; Salele Mane. Hugh Masekela And The Union Of South Africa: Mamani; Caution; Hush (Somebody’s Calling My Name). Home Is Where The Music Is: Minawa. Introducing Hedzholleh Soundz: Languta; Kaa Ye Oya; Adade; Yei Baa Gbe Wolo; Patience; When; Nye Tamo Ame; Rekpete.
CD3:I Am Not Afraid: Jungle Jim; African Secret Society; Nina; Been Such A Long Time Gone. The Boy's Doin' It: Ashiko; Mama; The Boy’s Doin’ It. Colonial Man: A Song For Brazil; Colonial Man; Whitch Doctor.
Hugh Masekela: trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals, with:
CD1 1-7: Charlie Smalls: piano; John Cartwright: bass; Chuck Carter: drums; Big Black: congas. CD1 8, 9: Al Abreu: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Cecil Barnard: piano; Henry Franklin: bass; Chuck Carter: drums. CD1 10-13: Al Abreu: tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; William Henderson: piano; Bruce Langhorn: guitar; Henry Franklin: bass; Chuck Carter; drums. CD1 14 – 19: Wayne Henderson: trombone; Al Abreu: tenor saxophone; William Henderson: piano; Arthur Adams: guitar; Henry Franklin: bass; Chuck Carter: drums.
CD2 1, 2: Joe Sample: piano; Larry Williams: piano; Arther Adams: guitar; Wilton Felder: bass; Monk Montgomery: bass; Al Foster: drums; Wayne Henderson: drums; Francisco Aguabella: congas; Letta Mbulu: vocals; Caiphus Semenya: vocals; Philemon Hou (Hugh Masekela): vocals. CD 2 3: Larry Willis: piano, vocals; Hal Dodson: bass; Al Foster: drums. CD2 4-6: Jonas Gwangwa: trombone, vocals; Caiphus Semenya: vocals; Joe Sample: piano; Arthur Adams: guitar; Wilton Felder: bass; Wayne Henderson: drums. CD2 7: Dudu Pukwana: alto saxophone; Larry Willis: bass; Eddie Gomez: bass; Makhaya Ntshoko: drums. CD2 8-15: Richard Neesai Botchway: guitar; Nat Hammond: flute, congas, vocals; Stanley Kwesi Todd: bass, vocals; Acheampong Welbeck: drums; James Kwaku Morton: congas, vocals; Isaac Asante: talking drum, percussion, vocals; Samuel Nortey: percussion, vocals.
CD3 1-7: Richard Neesai Botchway: guitar; Nat Hammond: flute, congas, vocals; Joe Sample: piano; Stanley Kwesi Todd: bass, vocals; Acheampong Welbeck: drums; Stix Hooper: drums; James Kwaku Morton: congas, vocals; Isaac Asante: talking drum, percussion, vocals; Samuel Nortey: percussion, vocals. CD3 8-10: O.J.Ekemode: saxophones, vocals; Adelaja Gboyega: electric piano; Stanley Kwesi Todd: bass; Yaw Opoko: bass; Frankie Todd: drums; Guy Warren: shekere, bells, vocals; Asante: talking drum, vocals; Kwasi Dzidzomu: congas. CD3 11-13: O.J.Ekemode: saxophones, vocals; Sivuca: accordion, vocals; Adelaja Gboyega: electric piano; Stanley Kwesi Todd: bass; Yaw Opoko: bass; Frankie Todd: drums; Guy Warren: shekere, bells, vocals; Asante: talking drum, vocals; Kwasi Dzidzomu: congas.