Hugh Masekela

While it's the insistent cowbell and the pounded piano chords that catch your attention first, eventually it's the horns followed by just Hugh Masekela's flugelhorn that makes his most famous jam, "Grazing in the Grass," such an infectious single, one that hit #1 in the US in the tumultuous year of 1968. After a long career in music and political activism that made him the "Father of South African Jazz," Masekela died from prostate cancer on Tuesday, January 23 at the age of 78. Born in Kwa-Guqa Township, Witbank South Africa, Masekela was, in the late 1950s, an original member of the Jazz Epistles, reputed to be the first jazz band in South Africa that also included Abdullah Ibrahim (Dollar Brand). Their record Jazz Epistle: Verse 1 is the first South African jazz recording. The two men, Brand and Masekela, arguably South Africa's most well-known musicians of any genre, reunited in 2016 for a performance in Johannesburg. Studying in London and the US, Masekela, who also played cornet, played at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. He also guested on a pair of Byrds recordings: "So You Want to Be A Rock and Roll Star" and "Lady Friend," and his 1994 recording "Stimela (Coal Train)" was a staple at audio shows in the late 1990s and early oughts. Not surprisingly, he toured with Paul Simon during his Graceland tour, a move that stirred protests against him.

A vocal foe of apartheid, Masekela was only able to return to South Africa in 1990 after having been banished by authorities in 1960 the same year the ANC was banned and the Sharpeville massacre occurred. Over his long career, Masekela recorded 40 albums, his best on the UNI label, though he somehow recorded four albums for Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records in the mid-'70s. He remained an active live performer up until his death. While there are a number of videos showing Masekela performing live on Youtube, including one in a Virginia club that is an iPhone video of him giving a hilarious rap before "Grazing in the Grass," check out this pro shot performance in South Africa.

dalethorn's picture

I have a wonderful album by Miriam Makeba that Masekela produced. And thanks to a South African friend, I'm tuning into more SA jazz by artists such as Rene Marie.

Hank Bakker's picture

I have wonderful memories of seeing him perform at Montecasino Johannesburg in 2010 where he played both Grazing in the Grass and Stimela with a stellar lineup including Erick Paliani on guitar, Lee-Roy Sauls on drums, Fana Zulu on bass and Randal Skippers on keyboards. Even in his seventh decade the energy on stage that night was electric and his enthusiastic showmanship had the entire audience spellbound.

kenkirk's picture

If you like Hugh and have not heard it, check out his live recording with Herb Alpert " Main Event Live" from 1978 . These guys really put on a show for that event! You can stream it in MQA on Tidal. Big fun and nice to hear Herb step out a bit.


dalethorn's picture

I bought some Masekela albums this week, and so far my favorite song is Bajabula Bonke (the Healing Song), in a live rendition that's about 8 minutes long. There are other goodies in these albums, and I think most people will be rewarded by searching through them and listening to the samples.