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.
Although Saskatchewan-born songwriter, piano player, bassist, and singer Colleen Brown now lives in Ontario, she spent most of her musical education and career in Edmonton. She’s released five albums, including her 2004 debut A Peculiar Thing, 2008’s Foot in Heart, and 2015’s Direction. Brown has opened for acclaimed musicians including Randy Newman, Jim Cuddy, and Hawksley Workman, and she’s toured the United Kingdom and Germany. While she’s often compared to Joni Mitchell, her voice and her musical approach are truly her own.
In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Colleen Brown discusses:
Colleen Brown spoke with me by Skype from her home in Ontario on April 26, 2016. We began by discussing the turmoil of recording studio disasters.
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” is perhaps the best-known line of poetry of any post-war American poet. Gil Scott-Heron’s accomplishments and views allow for many labels, none of which encompass the man: jazz musician, singer-songwriter, poet, novelist, and historian. Born in 1949, Scott-Heron released more than twenty albums, two novels (the first published when he was 19), and the 2012 memoir The Last Holiday about Stevie Wonder’s campaign to enshrine Martin Luther King’s birthday as a US national holiday.) His work is political, personal, and always richly poetical.
In July, 1999, Wayne Malcolm of CJSW Community Radio Calgary and I met with Gil Scott-Heron at the Calgary Folk Festival. He discussed:
He began by talking about his famous father who was known as the Black Arrow—and no, he wasn’t a superhero.
Ann Vriend is a superb, independent songwriter-musician who’s toured the world and has created six albums including her most recent and critically-acclaimed release, For the People in the Mean Time. Her vocals are a fusion of Dolly Parton and Aretha Franklin, and her lyrical skill is a standout for her generation. She’s the winner of the 2013 Canadian “She’s the One” contest.
In today’s episode of MF GALAXY, Ann Vriend discusses:
Throughout the show we’ll hear excerpts from the album For the People in the Mean Time, specifically “A Long Road,” “A Need So Wide,” “The Greatest Killer,” and “Wonder Why.”
I spoke with Ann Vriend in her home in the McCauley neighbourhood of Edmonton on September 20, 2015. You’ll hear ambient noise throughout our conversation, including at one point a dishwasher running, so I apologise for the below-average sound-quality of this episode. And now on MF Galaxy, my conversation with Ann Vriend.
To hear the full 80 minute, patrons-only extended edition of my conversation with Ann Vriend, visit the MF GALAXY 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, plus video excerpts from selected interviews as they become available. This extended edition includes Ann Vriend discussing:
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