THIS MONTH, TWO AFRICAN MUSICIANS YOU MUST SEE
by Anthony Torres
Jazz great Hugh Masekela is coming to Yoshi’s and this is someone you want to see. I last saw Masekela in San Jose several years ago at an outdoor jazz festival where he played music that was so sweet and heartfelt, that there was a hush over the outdoor crowd that was so intense, that the air seemed still.
That day, the music that came through his horn spoke of a personal history of struggle and perseverance growing up in Apartheid South Africa, and to music as a means of expressing the passions, sorrows, and joys of the streets, and of church songs, work songs, political protest songs of the townships that formed the varied sources of his musical vocabulary
In that environment, he was introduced to music and given his first trumpet by anti-apartheid priest Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, learning the rudiments of music while playing in the Johannesburg “Native” Municipal Brass Band, quickly mastering the instrument, and soon joined in the formation of the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa’s very first youth orchestra formed at St. Peters Secondary School where Huddleston was chaplain.
Violent repression in South Africa were common place, and after Sharpville Massacre, March 21, 1960 where 69 African peaceful protesters were mowed down, and thousands more of their fellow comrades were beaten and arrested, the ensuing national outrage and resistance, caused the government to proclaim a state of emergency that banned all gatherings of more than ten people.
As the brutal suppression of protests by the Apartheid state increased, Masekela left the country with the help of Huddleston (who had already been deported), and was admitted to London’s Guildhall School of music, and later, with the help with Harry Belafonte and Dizzy Gillepsie, gained admission to the Manhattan School of Music in New York.
It was only a matter of time before Masekela started getting support form numerous musicians and began recording, hitting it big with “Grazing in the Grass” in 1968, after which, in the 1970’s he attained international fame, selling out American festivals and auditoriums. Some old hippies might remember the line from Eric Burden and the Animals song Down in Monterey (about the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival), “Hugh Masekela’s music was black as night”.
However, equally if not more significant, was his meeting Fela in Nigeria in 1973 where he met “Hedzoleh Soundz” a grassroots Ghanaian band. The album “Hugh Masekela Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz,” helped chart the way for what has become known as “worldbeat” and it has been said, that it is arguably the greatest African-Jazz fusion album of all time, with creativity, musicianship, and soul power, that is incomparable. Indeed, it is a pure masterpiece.
While his accomplishments are numerous to relate here, it’s probably important to note that Masekela conceived the Broadway musical “Sarafina” (which became a movie), and that he toured in “Graceland” with Paul Simon.
Of course, he has done a range of projects since then, but the thing is this, his interests are so broad, there is no telling what he might do, and it will be interesting to see what he brings to Yoshi’s for what should be an incredible night(s) of music. What ever it is, one thing is for sure, Hugh Masekela will not disappoint.
That having been said, I want to let people know that Habib Koite is someone you definitely must see.
Malian guitarist Habib Koité is one of Africa’s most popular musicians and comes from a noble line of Khassonké griots, traditional troubadors who provide wisdom and are oral historians of Malian culture. Habib developed his unique guitar style accompanying his griot mother, and through insistence of his uncle, he enrolled at the National Institute of Arts (INA) in Bamako, Mali. After only six months, he was made conductor at INA, studying music for four years, graduating at the top of his class.
Unlike other griots, Koite draws on the rich and diverse Malian musical traditions, as many villages and communities in Mali have their own kind of music, with most Malian musicians playing only their own ethnic music, with many regional variations and styles that he brings together in developing a new pan-Malian approach that blends all types of music from all these traditions.
Habib became a fixture on the European festival circuit including the Montreux Jazz Festival and the World Roots Festival, and in 2000, he even toured Europe and Turkey as an invited guest with the legendary avant-garde jazz group, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with adoring fans including Jackson Browne and Bonnie Raitt, both of whom visited Habib in Mali, and have done a great deal to support his music.
I have made a point of seeing him live ever since the first time I saw at the Great American Music Hall a couple of years ago. The first time I saw him
I was completely floored. I remember thinking when as the band started to play, that he was a spiritual “channeler”. That what he was doing was a form of invocation of something sacred and holy — however defined. I remember thinking that I would have to see him every time he comes to town, which I have.
It is also important to note, that he has a new CD out after being away from the studio for six years, and that it is absolutely beautiful from beginning to end. I’m sure that much of the set from at Yoshi’s will draw from that as well as his previous endeavors, which can only make for a great show. I don’t think it is possible to stress enough that that Habib Koite is really someone special, and the necessity of seeing him perform. If you do, you will thank yourself you did
This essay first appeared in The New Fillmore, August 2008.