COMPOSERS: Hugh Masekela
LABELS: Sony Jazz
ALBUM TITLE: Hugh Masekela
PERFORMER: Hugh Masekela (v), Prince Lengoasa, Sydney Mavundla, Sam Nako (t), John Davies, Jasper Cook, Mokone Senkhane (tb), Khaya Mahlangu, Sydney Mnisi (ts), etc
CATALOGUE NO: 508295 2
Miles Davis described the young Hugh Masekela as ‘a very fine South African trumpet-player’. Meeting him in New York in 1965, he urged him to keep doing his own thing and not be influenced by the American jazz sound. The young Masekela effectively ignored this advice, however, and went on to develop a distinctive mix of South African dance music and US jazz funk.
Davis’s verdict goes unrecorded, but even he would have to concede that the combination has served Masekela well over the years. He sells a lot of ‘product’ and his sensational live shows are a sell-out wherever he goes. Time will not disappoint the faithful. All the essential ingredients are in place, from the traditional hymn with a swooping South African vocal choir, through political comment on African dictators, to an exuberant, rocking groove.
The band – and it is a big band – is slick and swinging. Masekela’s singing voice is like gravel steeped in molasses. But the arrangements are so perfect, so smooth and so over-produced, that the end result can only be described as rather superior easy listening. It was Louis Armstrong who first gave the teenage Masekela a start (and a trumpet).
Today, the 63-year-old South African has ended up in a similar position to his late mentor: singing more than playing and making music that has universal appeal but no real bite. Garry Booth