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.
Every living human being has a soul. In each of us, there’s a something viewed as immortal and defining of our character and who we are. Now what I’m curious about, is whether we as society still think white people do not have soul?
All my life, I’ve observed the rhetoric that white people are lacking when it comes to soul. In the arts and even in sport. I grew up understanding that a white soccer player could not have the same rhythm and be pleasing to watch on the field as Doctor Khumalo or Steve Lekoelea. Yes, they played the beautiful game with more than just there’s limbs but also with soul.
The idea of black people being the gatekeepers of soulfulness stems from the 1950s in the US. Because of artists such Aretha Franklin, who recently demised, James Brown and Sam Cook whose music was highly emotive and equally spiritual. Soulful artists have the conviction of Gospel and the suave and agony of Rhythm and Blues. Most of their voices were moulded at a church somewhere. Incorporated with soul-food, you get a vivid idea that soul and black culture go hand-in-hand. Abo darkie are the archetypal of soul. But in the last few years we’ve seen a growing number Caucasians who have soul.
Tom Misch, JFK, Jamie Isaac, Mac Miller and Jordan Rakei- who will be performing at this year’s DSTV Delicious Festival- are talented artists changing the status quo. J.Cole touched on this in his track Fire Squad.
History repeats itself and thats just how it goes
Same way that these rappers always bite each others flows
Same thing that my nigga Elvis did with Rock n Roll
Justin Timberlake, Eminem, and then Macklemore
While silly niggas argue over who gone snatch the crown
Look around my nigga white people have snatched the sound
This year I’ll prolly go to the awards dappered down
Watch Iggy win a Grammy as I try to crack a smile
I’m just playin’, but all good jokes contain true shit
These are heavy lyrics by Cole which were misunderstood by the public when the song came out. But it leads one to the question, are white people truly snatching black culture? I believe as black people we don’t mind, when other races immerse themselves in our various and interesting cultures-we’re too sharing to be that petty.
What irks us most, is someone who does not give credit to those who created the culture which they love because it has given them so much. Black people want and need to be acknowledged for the great that they are.
It’s no secret that Elvis Presley was the counterfeit King of Rock ’n’ Roll while the original King was Chuck Berry and that Eminem is a great rapper but his whiteness has been a huge contributor to his success. It’s no problem when someone of Em’s stature gets love and recognition, but it was disappointing when someone who makes gibberish as Macklemore won a Hip Hop Grammy award instead of Kendrick Lamar.
But it was inevitable that things would be like this, since the world is getting smaller and is free of segregation, apartheid and other wack laws which made it difficult for people all over the world to exchange cultures. Should we as black people take offense that other races immerse themselves in black culture? Not at all, we should take pride in it. A case in point is South African music legend Johnny Clegg who made great Mbaqanga music, but could never be compared to one of the gods of the genre Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens. The latter were a collective of a black king and queens who made music for everyone but never, not for one second, lost touch with their blackness. They owned it…and were still cool with Mr Clegg enjoying some of it too.
The likes of RJ Benjamin and Kid Fonque are known for their inclination to music with soul, which people of their own race don’t often appreciate as darkies do. RJ Benjamin has proved time and time again with his albums, production and the people he’s worked with that he’s a soulful kat whose name you wouldn’t find on a line-up, next to Kurt Darren and Steve Hofmeyr. While Kid Fonque’s show alone, on 5FM would sit well on afropolitan radio station Kaya FM because it’s not limited to the generic electro sound that’s synonymous with white fellas and girls. But his House music is soul satisfying, not just focused on burning my calories on the dance floor.
I know black people who’ll say white people can have all the soul they want, including our dance moves, if they give us all their wealth. Fortunately things aren’t that simple. We cannot and should not sell ourselves, instead we should own our culture, share it with the rest of the world whilst finding ways to preserve it so that it doesn’t get gentrified and become something we can barely recognise.