Hugh Masekela – A Conversation With The Jazz Legend

I must confess that I am not a great lover of Jazz, I have never bought a Jazz cd in my life, I don’t think am that sophisticated yet, maybe I will with age. My choice of music right now is rather a bit weird for a full Nigerian girl so my friends tell me, I love alternative music, artists like ‘Coldplay’, ‘Florence + The Machines’ and throw in a bit of ‘Adele’.

So when I got invited by my dear friend Nadya to go watch a bunch of Jazz musicians at the second edition of the Lagos Jazz Festival recently, I was not so keen. In fact I turned down the first invitation to the Saturday concert at the Lagos boat club on Awolowo road as I preferred to spend the evening watching my favourite TV cooking programme ‘Come Dine With Me’, yes I know I can be boring at times, I love it like that!



The next day, a Sunday, and my very persistent friend called me up again and invited me to the same Jazz concert but this time at the Muri Okunola park in Victoria Island, as I wanted to spend time with her, I obliged and so we went for the concert and indeed I had a fantastic time. For all you festival lovers it was like a miniature version of the UK’s Glastonbury music festival, the atmosphere was very chilled, the people enlightened and pleasant all relaxed sitting on the grass and having fun conversations while listening to the music, it was a good way to kick the week in motion.



There was a long line up of performers- the festival’s headliner was Jazz legend Hugh Masekela from South Africa who performed along supporting Nigerian artists such as Cobhams Asuquo, Bez, Keziah Jones and a few others.



So the next morning, Nadya again calls me up and says “Ono, come lets go spend the afternoon with uncle Hugh, she was referring to Hugh Masekela. Nadya by the way is partly South African and has known Hugh Masekela for a long time. So off I went to the Radisson Blu Hotel in Victoria Island for what turned out to be an interesting chat with loads of laughter courtesy of the maestro trumpeter.



For those of you that may not know, Hugh Masekela “has covered the globe and played with just about every top star you can think of – Masekela wrote a number of international hits and sold several million cds. The single &#39Grazing in the Grass&#39 topped the Rolling Stones&#39 Jumping Jack Flash in the US charts (and brought him a Grammy).  His hit “Bring Him Back Home” became the anthem for Nelson Mandela&#39s world tour following his release from prison. His recent albums have all gone platinum.  “The man with the horn” is a living legend, a genius musician and great performer who is even getting better in his “old days”. Okay, now you have an idea of the Hugh Masekela if you previously didn’t.



Who would have thought that at 72 years old the man will still have an easy going attitude as one in his early thirties, he simply flowed with everyone in the room, according to him “I want to be remembered as the man that brought joy and laughter”, and indeed I now think of him exactly like that, he brightened up my day and changed my perception of Jazz music.




Hugh Masekela



Hugh Masekela & Ono Bello



Hugh Masekela holding his famous horn in one hand and trying to hide my weave at the back of my head so it wouldn’t show up in the picture with the other hand.


I had the opportunity of asking him a couple of questions, well I know the interview can not suffice as spending a whole afternoon chatting with the legend but I hope it gives you a dose of my fun time sitting right next to the man who by the way dislikes anything unnatural like my long flowing Brazilian weave, he kept on hiding it at the back of my head so it wouldn’t show up in any of the pictures we took together, how hilarious!



Enjoy the short interview.


OB: Aside from Jazz music, what else do you listen to?


HM: I really don’t categorise music because I started music at an early age and I have taken music from a perspective of a child so this frees me to like anything. I don’t recognize genres or any of that. People like myself have been making African music for a long time and it was called African music but when it became universal it got changed to world music to include other people. So I tell everybody when it comes to the kind of music that it’s not to be differentiated, it’s like asking someone what kind of air they breathe.


So I listen to anything, what is called world music, I even listen to the Thailand music with the funny sounds and their girls dancing and swinging to it, that kind of music is very difficult. My most favourite music is African rural music; it is the most ignored and most exportable music with the most beautiful costumes. It has 90% of our population but there is no forum for them, we are looking to promote our Western selves and we don’t realize that we have the riches and the most diverse and varied cross-section of poetry, dance, couture, design and architecture. We are looking somewhere else and I think that media, television and education is misunderstood and politics and religion convinces us that our heritage is dark, primitive and barbaric and we have bought that and are afraid to show our side.


Westerns come to us; they come to look for animals because they can’t find us because we don’t want to be who we are. People in India, Malaysia, Thailand, they all put their cultures in front and they are all big industrial nations. Indians are classic film makers, according to my Indian friend, the Indians only have one song and “we sing it fast, slow, sad and happy and we only have one dance which you have seen in the classical Bollywood films and we only have two costumes, the Sari and the Pyjamas”.


It just shows that as Africans we are busy looking elsewhere and as we continue to look West, we will always be consumers and we won’t sell anything and we’ve got so much to sell but we want to buy. Just take a look at how we buy hair from the Brazilians and the Indians that shows a lot, we should think about restoring some kind of heritage activity otherwise we are going to be a hybrid society and 20 years from now when you ask your children who they are and they are going to say we used to be Africans and you see it happening now. Look at the Indians and Chinese foreign language ends at the gate.


Culture galvanizes the people, Western interest don’t want heritage restoration because once Africans start realizing how hot they are, they will blocking other things like cheap labour will disappear and this they know will unbalance the Northern hemisphere. So they work on us and we are just sponges for foreign culture.


OB: How will you like us to remember you?


HM: Well, if you were at any of the shows, you would have been made happy and this is what I want to remembered as; joy, happiness and laughter. Life is a very small part of nature, so I try to bring as much joy as possible and I don’t trust people that don’t laugh so am always trying to make people laugh because its good for them.


OB: What advise will you give to people that are starting up in the music industry, what do you think about the music nowadays?


HM: In music, I don’t think there’s a starting up, it’s not like a business where you go to the bank and open an account and I don’t think it is a thing you can go into because you love it. I try to say to people, if you realise that you don’t have the talent, try and do other things that are involved in music. You don’t necessarily have to play; you can be a manager, lawyer, stagehand or sound engineer. So the first thing I tell people in any profession is that you have to be passionate but also honest to yourself. If you are going to be a journalist and you can’t put a paragraph well then don’t write, maybe you should sell the newspaper.



Another thing is to be dedicated, most music involves refining your instrument and to do that you have to practice all the time and if you are going to do it you should try to be the best at what you do, otherwise don’t waste our time as we will know when you jive it and we will scream from the audience that you are full of shit.




Read full biography of Hugh Masekela –


Picture Credit

Reeze Bonna

Google Images

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