Explaining his reason for having lyrics in the sleeve of Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1973 album Burnin’ Island Records founder Chris Blackwell said in a documentary “This music, which at this point in time was novelty music, I really wanted to get across that this is not just novelty, what these words are saying, are words which have a universal appeal, they are not just Jamaican, they’re not throw away words. This man’s a poet really.”
Burnin’ was the group’s second album under Blackwell’s Island Records and at the time, Reggae wasn’t a popular style of music outside of Jamaica. The way the album was presented, its art and printed lyrics, made the marginalised genre more marketable to the rest of the world. Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are immortal musical giants, but Marley is a pop icon that wrote most of the trio’s music. By 1974 the group had disbanded, which saw Marley go solo but supported by new band members under the same name.
Bob Marley had a lovable character and made music that effortlessly connected with people. Thanks to the music he left us with, generations keep falling in love with the man from Trenchtown, Kingston Jamaica. As today would’ve been Marley’s 74th birthday, we remember him through his words, be it written in lyrics or those uttered in conversation. Words which epitomize his character; for what’s a man without his word…
“FREE SPEECH CARRIES WITH IT SOME FREEDOM TO LISTEN”
“MY MUSIC WILL GO ON FOREVER. MAYBE IT’S A FOOL WHO SAY THAT, BUT WHEN ME KNOW FACTS ME CAN SAY FACTS. MY MUSIC WILL GO ON FOREVER.”
“NO ONE BUT OURSELVES CAN FREE OUR MINDS.”
“DON’T WORRY, ABOUT A THING, EVERY LITTLE THING IS GONNA BE ALRIGHT”
“I HAVE A BMW. BUT ONLY BECAUSE BMW STANDS FOR BOB MARLEY AND THE WAILERS, AND NOT BECAUSE I NEED AN EXPENSIVE CAR”
“MY MUSIC FIGHTS AGAINST THE SYSTEM THAT TEACHES TO LIVE AND DIE”
“ONE THING ABOUT MUSIC-WHEN IT HITS YOU, YOU FEEL NO PAIN”
“THE GOOD TIMES TODAY, ARE THE SAD THOUGHTS OF TOMORROW”
“HERB IS THE HEALING OF A NATION, ALCOHOL IS THE DESTRUCTION”
“THE BIGGEST COWARD OF A MAN IS TO AWAKEN THE LOVE OF A WOMAN WITHOUT INTENTION OF LOVING HER”
GOOGLE an Aries’ traits and you will find that they are; Creative, independent, spontaneous and quite stylish.
Hugh Masekela, who died today a year ago was an Aries, born on April 4th. The jazz legend was an obvious creative, a staunch independent man while his travels showed his spontaneity and had he a penchant for fine apparel.
Maybe it might be hard to think of him as independent, looking at the rate at which he collaborated with other artists throughout his career. But his independence shone brighter under the cloud of collaboration in the slew of bands he was part of. Masekela, together with Dollar Brand (now known as Abdul Ibrahim), Kippie Moeketsi, Makhaya Ntshoko and Jonny Gertze make-up the first African jazz ensemble, Jazz Epistles, to record an LP in 1959.
They sold out shows in different parts of the country, but he understood that he couldn’t stay in South Africa because of dump-ass apartheid system. With lyrics swelling of anti-government chants, he left the country for London but soon moved from the UK after meeting Harry Belafonte and became a student at New York’s Manhattan School of Music. Despite spending a large part of his time in the US and other parts of the world, Masekela never discarded his South African pride, languages and cultures. He was an independent thinker who understood his role.
His style isn’t the culture-defining kinda stuff that a Bob Marley made look seamless in his Adidas tracksuits. But Masekela was savvy enough to dress himself in adequate class and eight times out of 10, you’d see the old man rocking his newsboy cap that he was very fond of with a dashiki to mark his pride and love for Africa. Whatever he wore, he manged to partake in the day’s fashion, remain true to himself and be comfortable on stage.
He always had the juice. Not only was he an astute jazz musician who composed some of the greatest music of our time, Masekela also knew how to use that music into other spheres in the art spaces for education, entertainment and activism. Together with comedian Kagiso Lediga, Maskela created late night talk show The Bantu Hour.
Built around the most famous boxing match in history, the Muhammed Ali vs George Foreman fight, Masekela with close friend Stewart Levine, organised a music festival, Zaire 74 in Kinshasa.
He ingeniously managed to fuse different styles of music to create something new- another reason for his longevity. In 1985 he founded the Botswana International School of Music, which still exists today.
Nelson Mandela wrote him a warm birthday letter while the former statesman was still in prison. In response and out of the blue at a party, Hugh went to the piano and began singing what we know today as Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela) which became an instant hit.
He travelled and lived in different parts of the world for numerous reasons. His discography paints a picture of how natural he was at creating music. After spending a lot of time in the US and Europe, he came back to Africa and worked with West African band from Ghana, Hedzoleh Soundz to make some Afro-beat inspired tunes.
But around the mid-80s he was based in Botswana where he made music inspired by Southern sounds such as Mbaqanga. He sporadically changed sounds; it’s as though he knew what sound was right for his audience at the time. Because of his spontaneity, his music organically reflected the times.
WE’RE mortal beings whose existence on this planet has an ending, but through a legacy one can live forever. Ask Bob Marley, Steve Biko or Flabba, who today would’ve celebrated his 41st birthday.
Real name Nkululeko Habedi, born in Soweto but raised in Alex, Flabba passed away three years ago after an altercation with his girlfriend Sindisiwe Manqele, who stabbed him. I remember that Monday morning in March when former Skwatta Kamp member Infa, confirmed that Flabba was no more. The whole Hip Hop community was frozen in shock, that ntja ya Gomora was gone.
Flabba left us with music he recorded with his group Skwatta Kamp, but we were fortunate enough to get one solo project from him which was the 2006’s Nkuli vs Flabba. The album won Best Rap album at the South African Music Awards in 2007.
I write this listening to a track from the album which he did with Lira, Gotta Let You Go. In the short song, he talks about the battling pain of losing his father and brother. This was a rare appearance by Nkululeko on record talking about his emotions, something which Flabba wouldn’t do because he was Nkuli’s Black Label drinking out-of-this-world alter ego.
Like the Kea Go Rata skit on the album where he’s in a club with a girl, tryna mack on her over loud music, but changes his story as soon as the music abruptly goes silent. He gave us himself in the album, the ying and the yang.
It wasn’t a traditional Hip Hop album marinated in lyricism and intricate rhyme schemes, like the stuff Proverb and Zubz were doing at the time. But like a proper comedian, he was far observant of what’s happening in society than people gave him credit. Kats like Lil Dicky are being given tags such as a comical rapper, while Flabba exposed us to such years ago. He was ahead of his time.
Zubz’s Heavy 8 is probably South Africa’s best posse cut, but Flabba’s Is’Bhamu Somdoko remix follows close behind. It pinned down the various Mzansi rap styles in one song, with everyone trying to channel their twisted sexual side which Flabba did so seamlessly. On the track Nkuli Habedi, he says he’s not your average rapper, but your favourite porn star. Flabba could rap, but was wise enough to avoid sounding like everyone around him who was chasing that US flow and style. He carved his own lane.
Gifted individuals live with an unfathomable and sometimes careless realness as if they know that their time on this earth won’t match any country’s life expectancy number. His clique, Skwatta Kamp was often juxtaposed to the US’s Wu Tang Clan because of their influence in the culture and also because both groups were bigger than the average Hip Hop collective.
Writing this, I can’t help but think of Flabba as SK’s Ol’Dirty Bastard. Both are deceased, they were both comical, abrasive, genuine and intelligent. Thank goodness he wasn’t part of Club 27, otherwise we wouldn’t have received what he gave us in his last 10 years on earth.