Tag Archives: Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela 1939-2018: “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” (1984)

Hugh Masekela’s passing, occurring after suffering for a time with prostate cancer, reminded me of what an vital musical figure Masekela was to Apartheid era South Africa. Because of the racist political environment afflicting America at the moment, it felt appropriate to talk about Masekela’s musical life shortly after it all came to an end for him. He was born in Kwa-Guqa Township, the son of a health inspector and a social worker. He began playing piano as a child, but switched to the trumpet having been inspired by seeing the America film The Young Man With The Horn.

Masekela’s life was always politically enshrined. His first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston-anti-apartheid chaplain at the St. Peter’s Secondary School. From his time in Johannesburg’s “native” Municipal Brass Band  through his time with Alfred Herbert’s African Jazz Revue in 1956, Masekela’s music became reflected of the inhumanity (and resulting struggles) of black South African’s under the racist system of Apartheid. He and his future wife Miriam Mekeba also toured the UK together as part of South Africa’s first blockbuster theatrical success King Kong.

By the 60’s he was recording and touring as a leader-with he and Mekeba even giving sanctuary to now radically anti apartheid exchange students. And of course having a major crossover hit instrumental with “Grazing In The Grass” on the international stage in 1968. As a flugelhornist and cornetist, his African jazz sound evolved along with the funk and disco eras to come. Reconnecting with many South African musicians in the early to mid 80’s, one song he recorded in 1984 was called “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby”. It was re recorded later. But for this occasion, I wanted to take about its original version.

Bongani Nxele’s in the pocket drums are assisted by what was likely Masekela playing the majority of the other instruments. The core if it consists of fast paced percussion and laser like synth bass stabs-all before a higher pitched synth pad takes over. Then Banjo Mosele’s rhythm guitar adds rhythmic heft. On the chorus, a quartet of female backup singers accompany Masekela’s horn. On the bridge, that horn solo takes on an echoing psychedelic affect-with a proto house music piano. Starting out the songs fading chorus, Masekela himself provides a rap before the backup singers reprise that chorus.

What brings this mix of the original “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” to life for me is what it meant for the African musical spectrum during the mid 80’s. In its original form, this is a song that represents an Afrocentric variation on the synth pop/new wave variety of dance/funk that was already permeating the clubs of London (which Masekela had already dealt with in the 60’s) as well as the US. Masekela’s jazzy touches and nod to hip-hop with his activist style rapping of ” you’re a winner when you beat the game” give “Don’t Go Lose It, Baby” a strong musical and political relevance from its time.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Toejam” by Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masekela first came to my attention in the late 80’s/early 90’s. During that time,local oldies radio would often play his original instrumental version of “Grazing In The Grass”,complete with cowbell followed by the vocal version by Friends Of Distinction. Both versions were recorded only a year apart. And what caught my attention most was the fact that Masekela’s version was a lot slower-with a strong Latin/funk flavored soul jazz flavor about it. To this day,exploring Masekela’s rich and varied catalog of music hasn’t been nearly as a high a priority on my list as it should be. So today is the beginning of remedying that musical oversight to a degree.

The South African flugelhornist is turning 77 today. In the mid 90’s my father played for me the second song I heard of his-a heavy jazz/funk number from 1975 entitled “The Boy’s Doin’ It”. It was from an album of the same title,which marked the beginning of Masekela’s three album/two year stint on Casablanca Records. With Parliament being signed ot the label,P-Funk was entering it’s peak on the same record label during the same period. And Masekela gave up plenty of his own funk there as well. His final album for the label was 1977’s Melody Maker. And it contained one of these funk numbers he made entitled “Toejam”.

Yaw Opoku’s phasered ascending/descending bass line and Papa Frankie Todd’s slow,funky drumming starts out the song. Then Adaloja Gboyega’s electric piano comes in to play the bass accents. Throughout the song he also plays some bluesy synthesizer riffs as well. Percussionist Isaak Asante plays rhythmic chimes off the intro-as well as on the instrumental breakdown which showcases Masekela’s horn playing the descending melody. On the second refrain,Masekela plays a full  flugelhorn solo thats full of sustained improvisations.  Before the songs final chorus,the percussion rolls into the drum / bass/ keyboard intro before fading out entirely.

What really stands out about this song is how succinct the funk of it all is. A band consisting of a good bassist,drummer,keyboardist and horn soloist could almost take a school lesson based on how it’s construction. Most of the solos find each instrumental element taking their turns that are singled out whilst also playing in grooving unison. Also even with the presence of Afrocentric percussion,this song is straight out of the jazz-funk school of the Headhunters and Crusaders of the time. With a filtered bass line that also continues with P-Funk’s love of scaling melodic bass lines,this was also a good closeout jam of sorts of Masekela’s period on Casablanca.

 

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