Masekela, Hugh (Ramapolo) 1939-

views updated

MASEKELA, Hugh (Ramapolo) 1939-

PERSONAL: Born April 4, 1939, in Witbank, South Africa; son of a health inspector/sculptor father; married Miriam Makeba (divorced, 1966); married Chris Calloway (divorced); married; third wife's name, Elinam. Education: Guildhall School of Music, 1960; Manhattan School of Music, 1960-64.

ADDRESSES: Home—Tarleton, Gauteng Province, South Africa. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

CAREER: Musician, composer, record producer, and activist. Trumpet player with South African dance and jazz bands, c. mid-1950s; in Alfred Herbert's African Jazz Review, 1968; Jazz Epistles band, founder and leader, 1958-60. Worked with numerous jazz musicians, including Dizzy Gillespie and Harry Belafonte; produced and arranged music for wife, Miriam Makeba, c. mid-1960s; Chisa Records, co-founder, with Stuart Levine, 1964; worked with leading musicians and composers in Africa, c. 1970s; led and composed for Afrobeat group Hedzoleh Soundz, 1973-74; recorded with Herb Alpert, late 1970s. Produced albums in Botswana, 1980s; founded Botswana International School of Music, 1986. Starred in "Graceland" Africa tour with Paul Simon, 1987; recorded in South Africa with local musicians, 1994; toured United States and Europe, 2004. Has recorded over forty albums, including Trumpet African, Mercury, 1962; 24-Karat Hits, Verve, 1966; Grrr, Mercury, 1966; The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela, Chisa, 1966; The Promise of a Future, One Way, 1968; Masekela, UNI, 1968; Home Is Where the Music Is, Blue Thumb, 1972; Masekela Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz, Blue Thumb, 1973; I Am Not Afraid, Blue Thumb, 1973; The Boy's Doin' It; Casablanca, 1975; Herb Alpert/Hugh Masekela, Horizon, 1977; Main Event, A & M, 1978; Technobush, Jive, 1984; Waiting for the Rain, Jive, 1985; Tomorrow, Warner, 1986; Uptownship, Jive/Novus, 1988; Hugh Masakela, Vol. 5: The African Collection, ABC/Impulse, 1991; Beatin' aroun de Bush, Jive/Novus, 1992; Hope, Triloka, 1993; Reconstruction, Motown, 1994; Hugh Masekela & Union of South Africa, Motown, 1994; Stimela, Connoisseur, 1994; Johannesburg, Anansi, 1995; Black to the Future, Sony, 1998; Note of Life, Sony, 1999; and Sixty, Shanachie, 2000.

AWARDS, HONORS: Nomination for best score and best musical, Antoinette Perry Awards, 1987-88, both for Sarafina!


(With D. Michael Cheers) Still Grazing: The MusicalJourney of Hugh Masekela, Crown Publishing (New York, NY), 2004.

Composer of score, with Mbongemi Ngema, Sarafina! (musical play), produced in South Africa, 1987; produced at Lincoln Center, 1987.

SIDELIGHTS: Hugh Masekela has been a musician since childhood, playing piano from age six and trumpet from age fourteen, playing in the band of anti-apartheid priest Trevor Huddleston. Huddleston, deported for his political activity, convinced Louis Armstrong to send Masekela one of his old trumpets, which instrument became a major inspiration for the young musician. Influenced by American jazz music and the traditional music of African peoples among whom he lived, he was soon playing with professional dance and jazz bands alongside prominent musicians like Alfred Herbert and Abdullah Ibrahim. Under the growing repression of the apartheid regime, however, Masekela fled the country with his wife, Miriam Makeba, whose international fame as a singer later rivaled his own.

In New York, Masekela made the acquaintance of some of the greatest jazz and pop musicians of the time. In a Boston Globe interview with Bill Beuttler, he recalled of Miles Davis, Dizzie Gillespie, and others, "They all said, 'If you can play your own music, my man, and mix it with whatever you learn from here, you might come up with something we can learn from.' And I came up with what I do today, which is sort of a hybrid of jazz and all my other background." The amalgam made Masekela world famous, and helped introduce African music to the world. With the help of folk singer Harry Belafonte, he recorded his first album in 1962, and also did arrangements for Makeba's albums. He founded his own label in 1964 with a fellow student at the Manhattan School of Music, and produced eleven albums in the next several years. His African-influenced instrumental single, "Grazing the Grass," was a Billboard number-one hit in the United States and a major hit abroad. As the 1960s progressed, Masekela and Makeba became known as symbols of resistance to apartheid and oppression in their native country, and they were associated with the civil rights struggle in the United States. As such, he appeared in the documentary film We Are Universal, which focuses on the role of black artists in the larger society.

Returning to Africa in 1973—though he avoided South Africa—Masekela toured with many prominent local musicians, including the Nigerian protest singer and Afrobeat advocate Fela Anikulapo. He took over the Ghanaian group Hedzoleh Soundz, recording with them and touring the United States. Settling in Botswana in the early 1980s, he set up a recording studio and music school, which led to a starring role in Paul Simon's groundbreaking "Graceland" concert tour. He also collaborated in the hit South African musical Sarafina!, which brought the story of resistance to apartheid by South African children to a global audience. After the peaceful overthrow of apartheid in the early 1990s, he was honored by South Africa's new president, Nelson Mandela, and resumed his performing and recording career in his native land. In 2004 Masekela chronicled his dramatic life in an autobiography, Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela, coauthored with Ebony editor D. Michael Cheers. The book, according to Eric Weisbard of the New York Times, begins by elucidating the music scene that gave birth to Masekela's career, a scene that "played an immense role in the anti-apartheid struggle." The book, he wrote, "is musical history of global import," although it also frankly deals with Masekela's long-time problems with drugs and alcohol, thereby reading "like any entertainer's story." Herb Boyd of Black Issues Book Review stressed the book's political story, writing that "Masekela's horn is tantamount to a cavalry's bugle as it leads the cultural assault against the forces of oppression in his native land." The author also "shows a phenomenal grasp of African American music and culture." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote, "In an unadorned, uninhibited voice, Masekela evokes music's magical power 'to sing our sorrow and illuminate our ecstasy.'" A Publishers Weekly reviewer regretted that the author "too often pauses to detail the constant womanizing and nonstop drug and alcohol abuse," but added that Still Grazing "also offers excellent descriptions of his musical accomplishments, which he beautifully defines as 'a potpourri of the music of the African Diaspora.'"



Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 26, 2004, Shelia M. Poole, interview with Masekela, p. F1.

Billboard, January 22, 1994, J. R. Reynolds, review of album Hope, p. 21.

Black Issues Book Review, September-October, 2004, Herb Boyd, review of Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela, p. 27.

Booklist, April 15, 2004, Mike Tribby, review of StillGrazing, p. 1415.

Boston Globe, May 28, 2004, Bill Beuttler, interview with Hugh Masekela, p. C13.

Essence, June, 2004, Cynthia Vongai, review of StillGrazing, p. 244.

Faces, February, 2002, Ann Stalcup, review of StillGrazing, p. 34.

Guardian, June 24, 2004, John Fordham, interview with Masekela, p. 15.

Jet, July 12, 2004, review of Still Grazing, p. 36.

Kirkus Reviews, March 15, 2004, review of Still Grazing, p. 259.

Library Journal, April 1, 2004, Bill Walker, review of Still Grazing, p. 96.

New York Times Book Review, June 13, 2004, Eric Weisbard, review of Still Grazing, p. 7.

People, August 6, 1984, review of album Techno-bush, p. 18.

Publishers Weekly, April 19, 2004, review of StillGrazing, p. 54.


Hugh Masekela Home Page, (December 1, 2004)., (August 11, 2004), Hunter Felt, review of album Still Grazing.*