Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 4 April 1939, Witbank, Johannesburg, SA; d 23 January 2018) Trumpet, bandleader, composer, singer. Father was a sculptor; raised by a grandmother; he began singing and playing piano at an early age, influenced by the film Young Man With A Horn at 13, obtained a trumpet at 14; along with African musics he was influenced early on by mainstream jazz of the Swing Era, then bop. Played in Huddleston Jazz Band, encouraged by veteran anti-apartheid campaigner Trevor Huddleston; when Huddleston was deported Masekela and Jonas Gwangwa formed the Merry Makers of Springs, experimenting with a fusion of bop and mbaqanga; at 19 he joined the pool of African jazz musicians backing popular singers, touring SA and playing in the orchestra for the show King Kong (see Miriam Makeba).

Finding revue formats restricting, he joined the Jazz Epistles '59 with Dollar Brand, playing on their eponymous album; apartheid was also heating up and Masekela joined the best talent in the country, along with his then-wife Makeba, Brand and many others, in leaving the country to avoid its stupid cruelty. He was helped by John Dankworth, Harry Belafonte and Dizzy Gillespie; studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and the Manhattan School of Music in the USA, and embarked on a career as a jazz musician. Works '62-6 on various Mercury and MGM LPs included Trumpet African, The Africanisation Of Oooga Booga, The Lasting Impression Of Hugh Masekela, two-disc 24 Karat Hits on Verve, etc alternating between original compositions with African titles and covers of contemporary Western pop. He moved to the West Coast and formed Chisa Records, leased material to Uni at first; basically quartet albums sometimes augmented included The Emancipation Of Hugh Masekela, Hugh Masekela's Latest, Alive And Well At The Whiskey A Go-Go, The Promise Of The Future (including 'Grazing In The Grass', written by Philemon Hou: no. 1 USA '68, sold 4m world-wide) and Masekela, all '67-9; he sold out Carnegie Hall '68. LPs on Chisa '70-1 were Reconstruction, made in Los Angeles with an eleven-piece band including Monk Montgomery, Wilton Felder, Wayne Henderson and Joe Sample; and Hugh Masekela And The Union Of South Africa, including Gwangwa. The direct inspiration of Africa had been missing; meanwhile he went to Lagos to play with Fela Kuti in Africa '70, made Home Is Where The Music Is '72 in London with Eddie Gomez, Dudu Pukwana and two others on Blue Thumb, followed by LPs with African group Hedzoleh Sounds: variously titled albums '73-6 on Blue Thumb/Casablanca/Chisa Introducing Hedzoleh Sounds (made in Nigeria), I Am Not Afraid (adding Sample and Stix Hooper), The Boy's Doin' It, Colonial Man (Patti Austin among background singers), The African Connection and Melody Maker. Back in the USA, he made Herb Alpert/Hugh Masekela and Main Event Live (also with Alpert) '77-8 on A&M/Horizon; he went back to Africa, this time nearer home, in Zimbabwe '80, Botswana '82: he persuaded the Jive Africa label to park a mobile sound studio just across the border from SA; having established himself as an international star, he was probably making the best music of his career, rejuvenated by mbaqanga, the foot-tapping music of freedom once frowned upon by blacks with aspirations. More LPs included Home, Dollar Bill, Technobush '82-4, Waiting For The Rain '86; Tomorrow '87 was a dance album on WEA. The Promise Of A Future was on One Way CD, Uptownship on Novus. Hope '93 on Troloka was made live at Blues Alley in Washington DC with his current septet of talented African sidemen, a summary of his career, with Kuti's 'Lady', the jive of 'Uptownship', a beautiful 'Ntyilo Ntyilo', and much else.