Hugh Masekela has an extensive jazz background and credentials, but has enjoyed
major success as one of the earliest leaders in the world fusion mode.
Masekela's vibrant trumpet and flugelhorn solos have been featured in pop, R&B,
disco, Afropop and jazz contexts. He's had American and international hits,
worked with bands around the world, and played with African, African-American,
European and various American musicians during a stellar career. His style,
especially on flugelhorn, is a charismatic blend of striking upper register
lines, half valve effects, repetitive figures and phrases, with some note
bending, slurs and tonal colors. Though he's often simplified his playing to fit
into restrictive pop formulas, Masekela's capable of outstanding ballad and
bebop work. He began singing and playing piano as a child, influenced by seeing
the film Young Man With A Horn at 13. Masekela started playing trumpet at 14. He
played in the Huddleston Jazz Band, which was led by anti-apartheid crusader and
group head Trevor Huddleston. Huddleston was eventually deported, and Masekela
co-founded the Merry Makers of Springs along with Jonas Gwangwa. He later joined
Alfred Herbert's Jazz Revue, and played in studio bands backing popular singers.
Masekela was in the orchestra for the musical King Kong, whose cast included
Miriam Makeba. He was also in the Jazz Epistles with Abdullah Ibrahim, Makaya
Ntshoko, Gwanga and Kippie Moeketsi. Masekela and Makeba, his wife at that time,
left South Africa one year before Ibrahim and Sathima Bea Benjamin in 1961. Such
musicians as Dizzy Gillespie, John Dankworth and Harry Belafonte assisted him.
Masekela studied at the Royal Academy of Music, then the Manhattan School of
Music. During the early '60s, his career began to explode. He recorded for MGM,
Mercury and Verve, developing his hybrid African/pop/jazz style. Masekela moved
to California and started his own record label, Chisa. He cut several albums
expanding this formula and began to score pop success. The song "Grazing In The
Grass" topped the charts in 1968 and eventually sold four million copies
worldwide. That year Masekela sold out arenas nationwide during his tour, among
them Carnegie Hall. He recorded in the early '70s with Monk Montgomery and the
Crusaders. Masekela moved in a more ethnic direction during the '70s. He
traveled to London to play with Nigerian Afrobeat great Fela Kuti and his Africa
'70; then came a session with Dudu Pukwana, Eddie Gomez and Ntshoko among others
that resulted in his finest jazz/African album, Home Is Where The Music Is.
Masekela toured Guinea with the Ghanian Afropop band Hedzoleh Soundz, then
recorded a series of albums with them both in California and Africa with guest
stints from the Crusaders, Patti Austin and others. Masekela alternated between
American and Africa, cutting a successful pop/dance album with Herb Alpert in
the late '70s. During the '80s, Masekela returned to South Africa. He visited
Zimbabawe and Botswana, and recorded two albums with The Kalahari Band that once
more merged jazz-rock, funk and pop. Masekela was part of Paul Simon's Graceland
tour in the mid-'80s, while he continued recording and produced sessions by
Makeba. Starting in the mid-90's, Masekela began releasing a stream of albums
and collections that showed his versitility and growth in South African jazz.
Though the jazz content of his work has varied over the years, Hugh Masekela has
far more material on the plus side than the negative.
~ Ron Wynn, All Music Guide