“Blues for Hugh Masekela.”
His name was Hugh Masekela, a trumpeteer in South Africa who played to [inaudible] crowds the world over, a musical exile from the madness of apartheid, the racially exclusive system that ruled that country for decades.
Masekela used his music to tell stories of his country and the Africans who lived there. I’m fairly certain that the first time we heard the word “shabin,” or a drinking house, was from his lips. His horn was clean. Pure. As clear as a bell on a new Sunday morning. His songs were places one could visit Africa. And often he would speak in an African tongue that we did not know. The word talismans of black African magic that bewitched theyouth of the sixties, words without meaning could and did mean everything and nothing at the same time.
I once interviewed Mesekela in the back rooms of a club in downtown Philadelphia called Just Jazz:
Mumia: You’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for quite a, quite a long time. By that, I mean, your music, for quite a long time in the states. There were people who remember your grazing in the grass days of the late sixties and what that meant to black people who were young and needed to hear different forms of music coming from black people in other parts of the world. How have you seen yourself as a musician?
Mesekala: I think of myself more as a very grateful person. I’m grateful to God that I have the gift that I have. I look at it as a very spiritual thing. I’d give it a lot of respect. And I play with musicians who are very respectful of that and have a great reverence for it. So I don’t really have what you would call a very complicated vision of it. I don’t think of myself as a cultish figure. I don’t think of myself as a person with a mysterious situation. I think myself mostly like as a part of the international black community. That is my inspiration.
In that interview, I asked them how it felt to see black folk in Philadelphia and the U.S. He drew a long toke from a joint and said, “It’s all Africa, man. I go to Philly, New York, the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, Brazil, everywhere I go is Africa.” Hugh Masekela, master musician, giving the world the sounds of Africa, has returned to his ancestors.
From imprisoned nation, this is Mumia Abu-Jamal.
These commentaries are recorded by Noelle Hanrahan of Prison Radio.