What were the weapons in the arsenal of a man who survived a vicious racial dictatorship to emerge as an international ambassador for his people and his craft?
In the case of Hugh Masekela, who returned to the ancestors on January 23, 2018, the answer is two-part: a gramophone, and a Louis Armstrong trumpet.
Born outside Johannesburg in 1939, Masekela began playing music at age three--by way of winding his grandmother's gramophone and singing along. In his career, his own music would fuse South African mbaqanga, bebop, funk, and Nigerian Afrobeat. His prolific six decades of making music took him around the world and granted him the personal victories of playing with such titans Abdullah Ibrahim, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Zensi Miriam Makeba, and Fela Anikulapo Kuti. His single “Grazing in the Grass” in the early 1970s topped the Rolling Stones’ “Jumping Jack Flash” on the US charts.
Humble and down-to-earth, yet deeply intelligent with a sweeping international perspective on art, politics, economics, and justice, Masekela was difficult to put in a single category. He didn’t even call himself a jazz musician.
After the Neo-Nazi apartheid regime banned his music, Masekela was forced to live in exile. He compared the effects of Apartheid to the effects of the European Holocaust against West and Central Africa, in that each operated by “making people lose their identity—that’s why families were broken up, so people lose their roots and self-esteem…. But it’s very difficult to take away in-grown culture from a person. It has failed throughout the ages.”
As if living in exile and the domestic banning of his music weren’t enough repression, his 1969 album Masekela was returned by a North American distributor “because they felt it was too radical.” But that didn’t make him hesitate to work with and befriend other radical artists and activists, including the late, brilliant Nigerian co-founder of Afrobeat, Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He eventually toured internationally with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Zensi Miriam Makeba, and Ray Phiri, was featured in the 2003 documentary Amandla!, released the autobiography Still Grazing, and remained active in humanitarian causes such as the Lunchbox Fund which serves meals to students at Soweto schools.
I was privileged to interview Hugh Masekela by telephone in September, 2000 before he performed in Edmonton, and meet him when he arrived. If you go to MFGalaxy.org and click today’s show notes, you’ll find a playlist of Hugh Masekela songs and videos that speak for themselves or accompany parts of our conversation.
Ron Pederson. I never worked with him but we crossed paths a bunch of times in Edmonton’s sketch comedy, improv, and theatre community, and then one day I up and turn on my TV and boom! There he is on MadTV, which for me was the funniest US sketch show ever made.
I shouldn’t’ve been so surprised he’d hit the big time. Other Edmontonians had made it big, including Michael J. Fox, Jill Hennessy from Law & Order, Bruce McCulloch from Kids in the Hall, and Nathan Fillion from Firefly. And Edmonton was and is English-speaking Canada’s leading theatre and sketch-improv city.
Still, to see a kid I knew on MadTV was exciting, and Ron was great. Plus I’d seen him kill in the gonzo science fiction musical comedy Road to Uranus by Dana Anderson and Cathleen Rootsaert. And he’d been a mainstay in the longform improv community with shows such as Die-Nasty!, and worked all across Canada with major outfits such as the Citadel in Edmonton, the Stratford Festival, the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, Tarragon, and more. So why not MadTV, huh?
But after three seasons, Ron left MadTV, and for plenty of people, by which I mean me, that raised the question, “What the hell? After you get on a show like freaking MadTV, why would you ever leave?”
Well, I decided to ask him.
In today’s MF GALAXY, Ron Pederson discusses:
We spoke by Skype on November 11, 2014.
To hear the nearly half an hour of patrons-only bonus content from my conversation with Ron Pederson, visit mfgalaxy.org to click on the Patreon link to become a sponsor for a dollar or more per week.
By funding MF GALAXY, you get access to all extended editions of the show including this one with Ron Pederson discussing:
Hey, MF GALAXY crew! Minister Faust here. Why not add your voice to the MF GALAXY podcast and the MF GALAXY blog?
That’s what listener and patron Jeff Quest did when I asked for opinions on the women of Star Wars, the Last Jedi. Jeff Quest is the blogger at SpyWrite.com and spybrary.com. In the following, he talks about how Rey is not only the new Luke Skywalker—she’s actually the better one.
Star Wars, The Last Jedi has got people talking about its exciting characters and battles and how iconic characters achieve their glory or meet their end. And for the first time there are plenty of female speaking roles in a Star Wars film: Rey, Rose and Paige Tico, Vice Admiral Holdo, Maz Kanata, Captain Phasma, and of course Princess Leia.
Some people claim, though, that reactions to the film are split along gender lines—that men hate it and women love it, because it’s the first Star Wars film to ask and answer the question, “What happens when men don’t listen to women?”
Well, obviously there are women who hate the film and men who love it (me included), but rather than argue about love-hate gender percentages that no one has actually measured, why not just ask some remarkable women what they thought about the female characters, their personalities and deeds, and whether the film does them justice?
So I did. On today’s MF GALAXY you’ll hear from Lisa Yaszek, science fiction scholar at Georgia Tech; Sylvia Douglas, a lead organiser of Lady Geeks Unite in Edmonton, and SG Wong, speculative crime novelist and community organiser, also from Edmonton.
Together, they’ll cover:
Sylvia Douglas + Lady Geeks Unite
pwp.gatech.edu/lyaszek (copy and paste this link into your browser)