King of Afro Jazz

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela, renowned South African trumpeter, composer, singer and political activist, was born in Witbank, South Africa, on April 4, 1939. Nine years later, apartheid was introduced in South Africa.  Masekela took to music at an early age. He began playing the piano when he was 6 years ago. At the age of 14, he became interested in the trumpet after seeing the movie Young Man with a Horn, in which Kirk Douglas plays an American jazz trumpeter. His first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the anti-apartheid chaplain at St. Peter’s Secondary School.  Soon, some of his classmates also became interested in playing instruments, which led to the formation of the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa’s first youth orchestra.

In 1958, Masekela toured South Africa with a native jazz band named the Manhattan Brothers. Thereafter, he landed in the orchestra for the legendary South African musical King Kong, a jazz opera about a boxer who kills his sweetheart and is sent to jail. The musical, which debuted in 1959, played to separated black and white audiences. Following the King Kong tour, Masekela, along with other prominent South African musicians such as Dollar Brand, Kippie Moeketsi, Makhaya Ntshoko and Johnny Gertze, formed the Jazz Epistles. This successful band played to record-breaking audiences in Johannesburg and Cape Town. They were also the first African jazz group to record an LP.

In the meantime, racial tensions in South Africa continued to escalate. In 1960, black South Africans gathered in the township of Shaperville to peacefully protest against a new law requiring blacks, who had been stripped of their citizenship, to carry a pass at all times. Sixty-nine protesters were shot dead and thereafter the government banned gatherings of ten or more people. After the Shaperville Massacre, Masekela left the country. With the help of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, he was admitted to the London’s Guildhall School of Music. Later on, the late Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte brought Masekela to the United States and helped him enroll at the New York Manhattan School of Music.
Genre: Folk, World Music, Pop Rock, Jazz
Studio Albums
Copyright 2011. All rights reserved
In the U.S., Masekela’s music career thrived. In 1964, the musician wed Miriam Makeba. The couple divorced two years later, but remained close friends. After the divorce, Masekela moved to Los Angeles and set up his own record label, Chisa. Under his label, he released his 1966 The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela album. However, it was the musician's live performance of The Americanization of Ooga Booga album that cemented his success in the U.S. In a 2007 interview with Riz Khan, American actor Danny Glover who attended Masekela's 1966 performance, had this to say about the musician: “he capitalized the spirit of liberation, the spirit of struggle for all those men and women who were in exile fighting apartheid, and he was a spirit for those who were a part of the movement, who were not South Africans. He was a song of liberation for us as well”.

In the 1980s, Masekela joined Paul Simon, Miriam Makeba and the Ladysmith Black Mambazo for the legendary Graceland Tour. Masekela also collaborated in the development of the Broadway play Sarafina!, a South African musical about a group of students involved in the 1976’s Soweto riots. The play debuted on Broadway in 1988 and ran for a year.  The musical was later adapted into a 1992 film starring Whoopi Goldberg and Miriam Makeba. Sarafina! was nominated for a Tony Award and received a NAACP Image Award.

In 1990, after three decades in exile and following Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, Hugh Masekela returned to his homeland. In 2002, the musician was featured in the documentary film Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony. In this documentary, prominent South Africans recall the struggles and hardships endured by black South Africans during Apartheid, through interviews, musical performances and historical film footage. The documentary won the Audience Award and the Freedom of Expression Award at the 2002 Sundance Film Festival.

His music

Masekela has mainly played in jazz ensembles. His music is a fusion of American jazz, blues and South African rhythms. In addition to providing interpretations of songs composed by such artists as Jorge Ben and Antonio Carlos Jobim, he has made guest appearances on recordings by Paul Simon (Further to Fly) and The Birds (So You Want to Be a Rock n’ Roll Star and Lady Friend). During a 1973 visit to Nigeria, Masekela was introduced  to the afro-beats music genre by legendary musician Fela Kuti.

Masekela’s biggest hit "Grazin’ in the Grass" from his 1968 The Promise of a Future album, sold four million copies and hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song was also nominated for a Grammy in the "Best Contemporary Pop Performance-Instrumental" category. "Don’t Go Lose It Baby" from the 1984 Techno Bush album also peaked at #2 for two weeks on the U.S. dance charts. The anti-apartheid movement of the 1960s through the 1980s greatly influenced Masekela’s music. Many of his songs served as protests against the oppressive South African regime. His 1987 hit single Bring Him Back Home became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela. Masekela was inspired to write the song after receiving a birthday card from Nelson Mandela, who at the time was imprisoned. "Coal Train (Stimela)", from the 1974 I am not Afraid album, is a reference to the packed trains that carried cheap labor consisting of black South Africans as well as Africans from neighboring countries, to work at the gold mines of Johannesburg. As Masekela stated in the 2002 Amandla! Film documentary, “the train has always been a symbol of something that took away your mother or your parents or your loved one, because the train was really South Africa’s first tragedy”. "Soweto Blues" (1977 You Told Your Mama Not to Worry) written by Masekela for his former wife Miriam Makeba, mourns the killings of school children during a 1976 riot in his homeland.

Masekela currently resides in his native South Africa, where he has been very active in trying to help build Africa’s entertainment industry. The musician continues to perform around the globe.
Trumpet Africaine (1961)
Hugh Masekela's Next Album (1964)
The Americanization of Ooga-Booga (1965)
The Americanization of Ooga-Booga (1965)
grrr...Hugh Masekela (1966)
Hugh Masekela's Latest (1967)
Hugh Masekela is Alive and Well at the Whiskey A-Go-Go (1967)
The promise of a Future (1968)
Africa '68 (1968)
The Lasting Impression of Hugh Masekela (1968)
Masekela (1968)
Reconstruction (1969)
Hugh Masekela & the Union of South Africa (1969)
Home is Where the Music is the African Connection (1972)
Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz (1973)
I am Not Afraid (1974)
The Boy's Doin' It (1975)
Colonial Man (1976)
Melody Maker (1976)
You Told Your Mama Not to Worry (1977)
Grazin in the Grass (1977)
Herb Alpert & Hugh Masekela (1978)
Main Event Live Herb Alpert & Hugh Masekela (1978)
District 6/You Tingle My Spine (1979)
Live in Lesotho (1980)
Home (1981)
Working for a Dollar Bill (1983
Technobush (1984)
African Breeze (with Jonathan Butler) (1984)
Waiting for the Rain (1985)
Hugh Masekela with Kalahari: Tomorrow (1987)
Bring Him Back home (1987)
Uptownship (1988)
Live in Lesotho (1989)
Beatin' Around the Bush (1992)
Hope (1993)
Notes of Life (1996)
Black to the Future (1997)
Sixty (1999)
Time (2002)
Live at the BBC (2002)
Tsepotshola- A New Dawn (2002)
Revival (2005)
Almost like Being in Jazz (2005)
Live at the Market Theater (2007)
Phola (2008)
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Hugh Masekela