Hugh Masekela, legendary South African jazz flugelhorn player, trumpeter, composer and singer is making his Australian debut tour with a select series of concerts. Now aged 70, the musician, whose sumptuously warm flugelhorn sound contrasts with his exuberantly gravelly voice, was last seen in Sydney two decades ago when he played in Paul Simon's Graceland tour. The legendary jazz flugelhorn player, trumpeter, composer and singer, and iconic anti-apartheid figure, will perform a best-of collection from his extensive back catalogue and tracks from his 35th studio album Phola. The concerts in October is set to be a moving journey through the African continent, offering a glimpse into the personal and political journey of Masekela.
Having always been an eloquent and committed champion for South Africa, and for the ideals of freedom and justice, Masekela is still fighting for inequality and hardship and remains a source of inspiration and hope for many Africans. He left South Africa during the apartheid era, but returned following Nelson Mandela's release in 1990 and has continued to record platinum-selling albums and tour all over the world. His first tour of South Africa after his return, entitled Sekunjalo – This is it, was sold out in major cities of South Africa and both his subsequent albums Black to the Future and Sixty went platinum.
He has also used his position to give a platform to a fresh generation of South African talent, forming his own record label Chisa Entertainment. Masekela is currently working on several films, novels and theatre projects. One film involves a black superhero and is in the vein of Superman, while another is on the life of his mentor anti-apartheid activist and priest Trevor Huddleston.
It was Archbishop Huddleston who gave Masekela his first trumpet in 1954. Masekela's virtuosity led to an increased interest in music by his friends at St Peter's Secondary School and six months later they formed South Africa's very first youth orchestra, the Huddleston Jazz Band.
Later Masekela played a trumpet sent to the group by Louis Armstrong, who was touring Africa at the time, but was banned from South Africa. Armstrong had heard about a group of African youngsters who wanted to play jazz and, although Armstrong never reached South Africa, his trumpet got Masekela's group attention from the music community and media and they become well known.
After leading his own jazz bands, Masekela joined the star-studded African Jazz Revue and the Manhattan Brothers, and played in the musical King Kong, South Africa's record-breaking theatrical success both at home and on London's West End. The cast included his future wife, legendary singer Miriam Makeba. Masekela and other eminent musicians, including pianist Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and Kippie Moekesti, then formed The Jazz Epistles, the first South African jazz group to record an LP and were primed for a national tour, but South Africa's apartheid laws were making life increasingly difficult. After the Sharpville massacre in 1960 the government banned gatherings of more than 10 people so the tour had to be abandoned and Masekela, along with many other jazz musicians, left the country.
Assisted by Huddleston and Yehudi Menuhin, Masekela enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and then, with the help of Harry Belafonte and Dizzy Gillespie he switched to the Manhattan School of Music and immersed himself in New York's buzzing jazz scene. There he finally met Louis Armstrong, who told him: “Whatever you do, don't forget the people you come from. Don't forget it. I'm always talking about New Orleans.”
Unable to return home, Masekela began making a name for himself as a musician and played with The Byrds, Herb Alpert, Fela Kuti and others. Encouraged by friends Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Harry Belafonte, he formed his own group and became the first African artist to break through into the international pop mainstream. Long before it was the trend, he was fusing jazz, Latin, African and pop influences into a style all of his own. His breezy instrumental pop jazz tune Grazin' in the Grass gave him a surprise number one hit and became the best known song of his career.
Heeding the call of his African roots, Masekela moved to Guinea, Liberia and then Ghana. In 1981, he founded the Botswana International School of Music alongside Dr Khabi Mngoma. Masekela was so moved when he received a note from Nelson Mandela telling him to keep up the good work, he wrote Bring Him Back Home, which became an anthem for the anti-apartheid movement. Masekela's outspoken political stance made him a potential target for
South Africa's security forces and he was forced to leave Botswana for London. It was there that he co-wrote the music for the Broadway musical Sarafina!, which later became a film starring Whoopi Goldberg.
THE TELEGRAPH, UK MEDIA PARTNER VENUE Concert Hall
3rd Oct Bellingen NSW Bellingen Global Carnival
6th Oct Sydney Sydney Opera House
8th Oct Melbourne Hamer Hall
11th Oct Perth Perth Concert Hall