The trumpeter, scholar and freedom fighter Hugh Masekela died this morning in Johannesburg, at 78. The Checkout has periodically checked in over the years with this South African jazz master — though he'd be the first to say that he wasn’t a jazz artist, nor is jazz an American art form.
In our first conversation from 2011, which hasn’t been aired before, Masekela speaks candidly about growing up during the rise of apartheid, and ponders what South Africa could have been if it hadn’t crumbled under white authoritarian rule. In 1959, when the nationalist government was imposing stricter rules of segregation, Masekela joined forces with an all-black band, The Jazz Epistles.
We ask the artist about this Holy Grail recording, a topic we've covered extensively on this show. It was actually this unheard conversation that set in motion our recent New York City concert and podcast with Abdullah Ibrahim, where we attempted to reunite its original band members from over 60 years ago. Unfortunately, a week before the show, Masekela canceled due to an unforeseen injury.
This episode also features excerpts from a 2015 conversation with Masekela at The Cape Town International Jazz Festival. That year marked the 50th anniversary of his breakout recordings The Americanization of Ooga Booga, Grrr, The Emancipation of Hugh Masekela, as well as the launch of his own record label, Chisa. He told us how his marriage with “Mama Africa,” Miriam Makeba, helped steer his direction as a burgeoning artist, with help from his close friendship with the American actor Harry Belafonte.
Masekela will be missed, not only in South Africa but around the world.