Today is a somber day, today we lost South African jazz legend Hugh Masekela. Though his musical resume' is extensive, his social justice and reform work are equally remarkable! I came to know Hugh Masekela when my granddad showed us a video of Paul Simon's "Graceland" live concert in Johannesburg. As young black kids, it was an opportunity to connect with our musical heritage and roots in a modern way.
At that time, Nelson Mandela was still not a free man. Can you remember that far back? It's hard to imagine this world in its former state, though current times aren't much better. His song "Bring Him Back Home" was uber melodic and his prowess on the flugelhorn caught my attention. I was a drummer since the age of four, but I hadn't formally studied drums in school. I played violin in the fourth and fifth grades and started on trumpet in the sixth grade. I was mesmerized by the way he handled the flugelhorn and trumpet and their corresponding ranges with ease-smoother than well greased valves! In America, the flugelhorn was known by artists Freddie Hubbard (a veritable jazz icon) and...Chuck Mangione.
He was to trumpet was George Benson is to the acoustic guitar
I watched in amazement as he played that concert and never forgot him. His performances were what I looked forward to each time I watched the video. Much more than the song about Nelson Mandela, he penned another gripping piece about the coal mining industry entitled "Stimela". He wasn't only a brass virtuoso, he was an enthralling story teller and exciting vocalist.
As I got older, my admiration for one of my favorite musicians grew exponentially. A fast food chain (I can't remember which one) ran an ad campaign in the late 90's featuring the song "Grazing in the Grass" which featured the song recorded by The Friends of Disctinction. Once I discovered that Hugh Masekela was the first to record the Billboard charting instrumental, he was solid gold in my eyes!
I found my first recording of his at a music store here locally and grabbed it as soon as I could. It was Masekela's 1998 release"Black to the Future". Listening to the album connected me to his music even more. To this day, I still regularly listen to "Mama Ndoro", "Song of Love", "The Boy's Doin' It" and "Strawberries" from that album.
Hugh Masekela covers of popular songs
Mr. Masekela was married to the late Miriam Makeba for a period of five years while the two lived in New Jersey. As if this musical fairytale couldn't get any better, they lived next door to Dizzy Gillespie. Yeah, let that sink in!
Though they had been divorced for a long time by the time I met them both( by way of the concert), I was enamored with their collective musical genius. The two teamed up for the "Graceland" concert for the song "Soweto Blues".
Thanks for the awesome memories, Mr. Masekela! My life and music have been greatly impacted by you. We're not guaranteed to be here forever, but we are guaranteed time to make an impact while we are here.
Music is my first love. It has many forms but one function in my life. In this space, I'll talk about music in its many forms. I'll also share some of my deep, personal thoughts about professional music and the music industry at large.