Hugh Masekela

A Galaxy cooking session with

by Struan Douglas

Hugh MasekelaStruan Douglas and Iain Harris exchange tones with Hugh Masekela, and discover that apart from people, life, the world and women, music is in fact all about sushi.

Hugh Masekela “I love sushi,” says a cool-grooving charismatic Hugh. “You can eat it at midnight and not get nightmares. When I came out of rehab I had a major appetite. I had a major appetite before, so now I’m working on just eating nutritional food. Japanese food is expensive, but there isn’t a sliver of fat anywhere, and I think we must shift ourselves in that direction. When I left this country, people used to walk a lot, they were much more slender and much healthier looking, but now people don’t walk and there’s so much fast food takeaways. I know that Bimbos are going to hate me for this but…”

So a utopian South Africa for Hugh would be one inundated with inexpensive Japanese sushi bars, keeping the nation trim and high on wasabi? Perhaps an odd vision for a man revelling more than ever before in being South African and playing to South African audiences, regardless of their culinary habits.

“Yeah, I love South Africa, I’m a pig in mud. I was very homesick for 32 years, and I’m just knocked out to be home. ” And the Jazz Africa festival in December proved that not only is he knocked out to be home, but the audiences are knocked out to have him. “The music relates to who the people really are, to the audiences, they enjoy it because we’re a country in search of itself. We’re obsessed with letting people have the confidence for it to be okay to be South African, ’cause it’s great to be South African. We enjoy playing for people and we’re very appreciative of the fact that we’re South Africans and we got the music.”

The people, he says, are his main inspiration. And the world, being alive. But it’s really about the ordinary people. And that’s reflected in the band. “We’re sort of a plebby group, but we’re slowly roping in the Marie Antoinettes. They’re also finding out that they are victims of the isolation. We have basically the same reaction everywhere we go, and as a good group of musicians, I think that is what happens, we have a great chemistry, and we all sing together, we like each other, we’re a silly brotherhood. I think we’re a pleasant group not a showbizzy group.”

Showbizzy they might not be, but cutting edge they certainly are. “We’re obssessed with bringing back the past with a now vibe,” which means incorporating new sounds like kwaito. “Yeah, yeah kwaito. When we did mbaqanga in the ’50s they said the same thing about it, `aagghh township music, it’s for drunkards, and loose people who drink and take drugs, the chicks are loose, fucken rubbernecks’, and people said `don’t be a muso because you’ll become a drunk’, and when Brenda Fassie and Chico and them came out they were condemned the same way, `aagghh it’s bubble gum’. But 5 years from now kwaito will be like our daily bread, ’cause it’s culture from the townships, the majority of the population of this country are the youth, and that’s their music.”

With the energy and enthusiasm of a youth, where exactly is Hugh headed?

“I think of myself as just playing music. You know I grew up in school choirs, in church, I went to a classical conservatory, there’s nothing I haven’t played, so I think that it’s bullshit about people being jazz, and kwaito and this and that. It’s like when you see a pretty girl you don’t say she’s Indian, you just say `whoa what a pretty babe’, what a fox, you know what I mean. Music is either good or bad, the rest is bullshit.”

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