Tag Archives: South Africa

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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Filed under 1970's, Casablanca Records, drums, Flugelhorn, Funk Bass, Hugh Masekela, instrumental, jazz funk, P-Funk, percussion, South Africa, synthesizer, Uncategorized

Anatomy of THE Groove for 6/12/2015: “Tomorrow” by Nicolay

It was through his collaboration with Phonte on the latest album by The Foreign Exchange that got me interested in the music of Matthjis “Nicolay” Rook. Now this is a Dutch native who has been creating both solo albums and different collaborations within the funkiest side of the electronica/hip-hop/soul spectrum of music. His emphasis on live musicianship with his acumen as a multi instrumentalist is a big part of his artistic appeal for me personally.

Over the past decade,Nicolay has released a series of solo records in his City Lights series. Generally weaving them directly in between his released as a member of The Foreign Exchange. I’ve never had one of these albums. Yet the newest volume of this was subtitled ‘Soweto’-as a tribute to the South African township of the same name. And through online streaming? It was it’s opening song “Tomorrow” which caught my ear the most.

Beginning and ending with the voice of what is perhaps Bantu language conversation in the back-round? The song begins with a round bass synthesizer chord-accompanied by breezy orchestral electronics. Suddenly a burst of intense percussion kicks in for the main rhythm of the song-with congas,high hat and other Afro-Latin percussive sounds. On the bridge of the song a high pitch,and still round toned series of synthesizers play a horn like jazzy riff before gearing down into a higher pitched synth scaling up and down. All before the song ends with a light Ebonic vocalese.

One of the things I enjoy about this song is some of the same quality I heard on “If I Knew Then” from The Foreign Exchange. This song is of course far faster and electronic in straight up instrumental tone. That being said? Nicolay borrows a lot of his technique from early/mid 80’s Prince. In the sense that he is a master programmer and creator of live rhythmic and warmer,brittle bass lines with electronic drums and keyboards. It also helps greatly that he’s also an electric bassist and guitarist as well. He therefore understands the importance of a fat,rhythmic groove. Whether or not it’s produced organically. Along with it’s similarity to 1980’s Miles Davis and Weather Report? This song brings out the link between funk and contemporary electronica very strongly.

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Filed under 2015, Afro-Latin jazz, electro funk, Electronica, Fusion, Jazz-Funk, new music, Nicolay, Nu Funk, percussion, Phonte, South Africa, Soweto, synth funk, The Foreign Exchange

Anatomy of THE Groove 5/23/2014 Andre’s Pick: “Losing You” By Solange’

Being the youngest sister in a musical family can be a challenge. You can ask Janet Jackson,Pat Sylvers DeRusso. And today it would be Solange Knowles. Stereotypically she has always tended to be in Beyonce’s better promoted performance shadow-focusing on songwriting and musicianship to a stronger degree over Beyonce’s celebrity orientations. Sadly,Solange has entered into a controversy recently that could have the potential to spoil her strong reputation as a funky soul singer/songwriter. Personally? I feel these two factors which were just mentioned are interrelated. Yet during the course of this week as the matter involving her and her sisters marriage,which I refuse to get into here,has unfolded it seemed appropriate to do my own part to focus on Solange’s important musical accomplishments as opposed to any yellow journalism that currently follows behind her. And one of the best ways to do this is from a song she wrote and performed with her creative partner Dev Hynes in late 2012 called “Losing You”.

The song itself opens up with a swelling cornucopia of heavy African percussion,conga and bongo drums keeping time in a very polyrhythmic fashion to a very strident 4/4 “on the floor” style post disco beat. Weaving within this is an usual sound,perhaps percussion or a keyboard,that sounds something like a cross between children at play or tweeting birds. It has a very strong Brazilian effect either way. After a couple refrains of this a polyphonic synthesizer comes into the song bringing the melody. It’s soon joined by a thick,phat and popping bass line and another synthesizer part providing an accent that has the sound of a glistening,ringing bell. Over this insistent groove Solange sings in her rich,expressive yet low key voice about breaking up with a lover who seems to be insisting that she is entirely at fault in the situation. By the end,she is still unsure. And the fact that instrumentation stays on the one so insistently illustrates this concept.

Musically speaking,this song is a vital extension on the dance sound Madonna had on her earliest hits-with Mtume’s Reggie Lucas involved. This songs particular variation on the boogie funk sound of the early 80’s does mirror a time when even MTV had to refer to Madonna’s early disco/funk/boogie hits as being “rock” to spike interests. What Solange and Dev add to this mix is heavily layered Afro-Latin percussion and effects-which were a huge part of disco era late 70’s funk as well. By her own admission Solange has devoted herself to carrying on in a slickly produced instrumental variety of funk/soul music from the late 70’s/early 80’s as the basis for her sound. And doing so by her own admittance due to the proliferation of “R&B-gone-electronic dance music tracks” and that it was “remarkable for what it suggests about the direction of pop music right now”.

Shooting the video in the shanty-like township of Lango in Cape Town,South Africa during her photo shoot for Elle magazine added to the strong sense of Afro Futurism that Solange is suggesting in the song. Especially with the extra’s decked out in the manner of Afrocentric fashionista’s and engaging in general friendly farce and horseplay with her. Solange Knowles is an important talent in terms of the live instrumental funk revival. And I fully support her musical and personal position in hypothetical concert with her more commercially popular sister. She represents one head of a two headed family hydra who both bring to mind different sides of the post feminist black female iconoclast. And with Solange zeroing in more on her instrumental musical concept? She surely has a strong future ahead of her.

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Filed under 1980's, Africa, Beyonce', Disco, Funk, Solange', Soul