Hugh Masekela this weekend and his delicious roux of Afrobeat Jazz, as performed during the 2015 Inntöne Jazz Festival in Austria and broadcast by RAI Radio 3 in Rome.
Most Americans, probably remember the name Hugh Masekela for his enduring 60s hit, Grazin’ In The Grass which was a staple on U.S. airwaves from 1968 on, selling over 4 million copies. But Masekela was around before then – making a splash at the 1967 Monterrey Pop Festival, and being immortalized in the D.A. Pennebaker film of the festival.
But more than that, Masekela brought with him, not only a diverse and engaging as well as multi-faceted taste of Jazz, he also brought an awareness of the musical climate in South Africa during the 1960s and the adverse effects of Apartheid on all musicians of color in that country.
You could argue that the awareness probably began with Miriam Makeba (who was also married to Masekela for a time) and Abdullah Ibrahim (aka: Dollar Brand) who had been gigging in the states as far back as 1959 and who was instrumental in getting Masekela out of South Africa (along with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and British bandleader Johnny Dankworth) and settled in London before making his trek west.
Grazin’ In The Grass became something of a calling card, it gave Masekela an opportunity to bring Afrobeat Jazz to a wider audience; not just Jazz purists but the Pop audience as well. So popular was his style of playing, he was a featured guest artist on The Byrds’, So You Want To Be A Rock n’ Roll Star and Paul Simon‘s Further To Fly.
But it’s his commitment to the cause of bringing the diverse element of Afrobeat Jazz to the world, and amazing us in the process.
This concert from 2010 takes him back to his South African roots and his continuing work with Central and West African musicians which he began working with when he returned to South Africa in the 1990s.
Further evidence the tent of Jazz is huge and enveloping – and it is constantly evolving. That’s why we can’t reject Jazz or any form of music, because it is a perpetual driving force and a catalyst for creation and further exploration.
I don’t know what it would have been like, not being turned on to Hugh Masekela as a teenager – because, if it wasn’t for him, I would have missed an entire world of musical inspiration available for the asking.
Don’t forget that – crank this one up and celebrate all our differences – it makes us better people for it.