Trumpeter and activist Masekela brings Afro-jazz to Hop
By Marina Shkuratov
Published on Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Hugh Masekela, a Grammy-nominated South African trumpeter and influential political activist, will perform with a five-piece band tonight at 7 p.m. in the Hopkins Center’s Spaulding Auditorium.
Masekela is a leading figure in the Afro-jazz musical style and has composed smash hits on the trumpet and the flugelhorn, according to program notes from the Hopkins Center. The musician, however, is reluctant to define his musical style in any specific or constricting terms.
“I have been a musician since I was a little child, and it was just called music,” Masekela said in an interview with The Dartmouth. “[Great musicians] never categorized what they did.”
Masekela said the community and the media are free to characterize his music in any way they wish. Specific titles have no bearing on the love of music that ultimately drives him, according to Masekela.
Masekela has been honored countless times for his contributions to the music industry. In addition to his nomination for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Instrumental Pop Performance in 1968, Masekela won WOMEX’s 2011 Award for Artists, was the first African artist to have a number one single in the United States, took part in a successful Broadway show, “Sarafina!” and performed in the 2010 Soccer World Cup, according to the program notes.
Masekela said the material awards and honors, however, mean very little because his ultimate pursuit is music for its own sake.
“Music is not about that,” Masekela said. “People who want awards or fame are actually in the wrong profession because they self-destruct.”
Tonight’s concert will not have a distinct theme or mood, Masekela said. Its only goal is to ensure that the audience members enjoy themselves and leave feeling invigorated and happy, he said.
“We don’t come with, ‘We’re going to set a green mood or a navy blue mood,’” Masekela said. “If the people are feeling good and they’re having a great time, that’s all that’s important, and you can’t prescribe that.”
Tomorrow’s performance is part of a tour to promote Masekela’s new CD “Jubulani,” which is comprised of “old folk wedding songs,” Masekela said. The CD’s theme speaks to the rich cultural traditions of South African wedding celebrations, according to the program notes.
The audience can expect to hear songs from the new CD in tonight’s performance, as well as more popular songs with which viewers will likely be familiar, Masekela said.
In addition to his musical success, Masekela is also an activist. He works to raise global awareness of the discriminatory apartheid policies that defined the South African government through the 20th century, according to program notes.
In Monday’s “The Artist’s Role as Activist,” part of the “Words and Their Consequences” programming series, Masekela spoke with English professor Jonathan Crewe in Filene Auditorium about his personal history, as well as his work as an activist.
During the discussion, Masekela addressed the tremendous role that music plays in every aspect of South African life, as well as the “musical resilience” of African cultures throughout times of repression and struggle, he said.
“In South Africa, there was nothing that used to happen without music,” Masekela said.
Since the colonization of South Africa in 1652 and until the official end of apartheid in 1990, music was a key factor in African resistance to repression and attack. “What bedeviled the ears” of all the repressors who went through South Africa was “song, song, song,” Masekela said. As a result, music became an agent of liberation and freedom in the country. The songs of the people were a “major catalyst” in African liberation attempts, he said.
Growing up in this culture, Masekela said he was constantly surrounded by music.
“If you loved music and you were born in South Africa, you were like a pig in dirty mud,” Masekela said. “What I am didn’t really come from me. I absorbed it.”
During the course of his discussion, Masekela also discussed the negative effects that globalization and technology have had on individual cultures, including South Africa, particularly in stripping them of their individuality.
“We’ve become so hybridized that we’ve all sort of abandoned that ‘original-ness’ that we came from,” Masekela said.
For this reason, one of his “biggest obsessions” is restoring African heritage and pride to the people of South Africa, he said. International African society has been convinced through advertising and brainwashing that their heritage is somehow “barbaric, pagan, heathen and heretic,” Masekela said.
Masekela also discussed apartheid and the gender discrimination that were prevalent in South Africa during his discussion. The racial discrimination that characterized apartheid was “the worst thing that ever happened to Africa,” as it tore apart families and sought to destroy the mutual respect that was beginning to form between members of different ethnic groups, according to Masekela.
As a result of apartheid, thousands of families were broken up because it was illegal for black and white people to have “intimate relations” as per the Immorality Act, Masekela said. He also addressed the fact that South Africa is characterized by “major disregard and disrespect towards women,” he said.
Masekela said that through his actions and his music he is working to raise awareness about the anti-apartheid movement in Africa, as well as to promote the rich South African culture that he hopes will not succumb to globalization’s homogenizing effects.