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Freedom Music

“They used to call it Freedom Music”

by Andy Davis / 24.09.2009

“Have we lost the plot?” I ask bra Hugh Masekela. “Where is the message in contemporary South African music?”
“People became… I wouldn’t say complacent, for a second they started to bask in the sunshine of the new freedom that we had. And it was a time to enjoy those freedoms. But I think that… they used to call it freedom music but really it’s social consciousness music. And that is going to come back. I also changed my style radically. Because I didn’t think I’d come back home. I didn’t think we’d be allowed back ever. So I spent the last ten years just enjoying being with the people of this country, playing their music, performing for them, and them performing along with us. It’s just been a joy when people sing along, it’s like we’re an accompanying band for the audience. It brought me so much joy, it’s like being able to say to the people, thanks for this gift that you gave me. You know they sustained us where we were throughout the years.”

Hmm, nod, smile, sip coffee.
“But there are a lot of disturbing things that are happening in our country and in Africa as a whole. The wars that are happening and the refusal of so many people who have been in leadership in Africa to step down. The ravaging of the continent. And you know in our country especially women abuse and the rape of children and young girls and women, murder and crime and a major link to that is addiction. Alcohol and substance abuse. And I think our country stands neck and neck with Russia, which is supposed to be the most alcoholic country in the world, and a very violent place too. Most countries that have experienced violence and oppression become alcoholic countries. The reaction to the oppression and frustration varies from country to country. But I think that South Africa and Russia have taken it very badly on the chin and our reaction to it has been violence against each other. And those are all disturbing things. On our album ‘Time’ we’ve got a song that talks about change and how everything must change, and there we talk about the wars and we talk about the old guys who won’t give up power, who don’t want to step down. And we’ve also got a song that says, ‘I want to be there when the people win the battle against Aids. I want to be there when the people triumph over poverty. I want to be there for the alcoholic, for the drug addict, for the victims of violence and abuse’. And I think I am coming back again to start to sing about the things that disturb us. On Zola’s album I wrote a song for him called ‘Shame’ – and it’s about rape, the shame of the rape in this country. And I say what is happening to South Africa? How can we just be standing by, looking on when men are raping babies and little girls. Didn’t we kill discrimination? Come on South Africa it’s time to say: ‘haikona!’ And I think that a lot of artists in Africa have to stop just singing about the beauty of the land and the beauty of our culture and let’s love one another and all that and start to point out a lot of things that are wrong. It’s not going to change the world. Shit if music could change the world Bob Dylan would have changed America long ago and we wouldn’t have had a George Bush. But it keeps people on their toes and it keeps them aware of what is happening. What disturbs me about our present society is that before, at the slightest infringement of our rights we used to take to the streets. Now we just sort of sigh about the rape of a five month old child. And I think something has been deadened in our conscience and that’s what I think musicians should be partly for, to conscientise people on things they have forgotten. Because with freedom comes amnesia, I have noticed all over the world.”

Read part 1 here and part 3 here.

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RESPONSES (11)
  1. death to interior decorators says:

    The best thing that Hugh Masekela could do to make the world a better place would be to stop churning out such soppy, inconsequential muzak. Yes Andy, I listened to the track you recommended. I also checked out his new album “Phola” – what a load of jazz-lite consumerist rubbish. Too much sugar rots the teeth and bad art does the same to society.

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  2. Andy says:

    Not all artists can be on point all of the time. But bra Hugh at least has a social conscience and writes songs like “Send Me”
    He’s also steeped in jaxx and what you call soppy inconsequential muzak is the stuff he digs playing… so let him jam, and sit up and take notice when he plays “songs”

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  3. flying solo says:

    Andy, I wonder if “Bra Hugh” as you refer to him (are you his age mate?) would give you another interview after the way you just spoke about him, right there.

    What do you think?

    Usually a interviewer asks questions, but you just drank coffee onty to throw in your own snide remarks later.

    The writing on this site get’s less impressive and more parasitic by the moment. So far I’ve taken the time to read 3 pieces – Arrows, Blk Jks and Hugh Masakela, and all have been to say the least schocking, not worthy of any print arts media in this country or anywhere else. But only on the net, I suppose, anything goes.

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  4. Roger Young says:

    I leap to Andy’s defense. Bra Hugh is what everyone calls him. I was at the Masakela birthday concert last night (Hugh and Busi backed up by Compleat and a full Jazz band plus many guests a mammoth 3 and a half hour spectacle which was, well wow!) and when I asked where the concert was the guy at the ticket office looked at me blankly, I said y’know the music, the concert (yes, I admit presuming that i had to spell it out like that is a little pas-ag and a teensy bit racist) and he looked at me and said “You mean, Bra Hugh?” I think he was like 18 or something. And then later when the crowd wanted an encore what did they shout, you guessed it. Bra Hugh! Bra Hugh! Bra Hugh!

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  5. death to interior decorators says:

    Who gives a fuck what they call him. His music is still unbelievably kak. I see no-one here denying that “Phola” is a steaming turd.

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  6. Dylan says:

    South African music in general would be a lot better off if journalism such as this went to print more often. It’d raise the bar.

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  7. Andy says:

    Flying Solo let’s get a few things straight. Jaxx was a typo for Jazz – the x and z are right next to each other. I think Roger dealt with the Bra Hugh thing. That’s what he’s called. Like Bruce Springsteen is the Boss. It’s just a nickname. Finally, I reckon I will get another interview with Hugh. The fact that I didn’t interrogate him, who cares. He answered all my questions and gave me tons of excellent material to work with. And frankly, who wants to read my questions when Hugh Masekela is on a roll? Mate!? Now fuck off.

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  8. Andy says:

    Oh wait I missed one thing, mate. Every musician play music they enjoy, in Hugh’s case it tends to be Jazz standards. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact millions of people love it. However, I am more drawn to his social conscience stuff. Songs like Send Me, Vasco Da Gama, Bring Back Nelson Mandela etc.

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  9. Andy says:

    Sorry I was grumpy when i wrote that. please feel free to stick around

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  10. Moose says:

    The writing on this site is usually great AND its local, not some US celebrity shit.
    I vote it way better than every print magazine in the country.

    There ARE some bad/tepid articles but that’s to be expected given they publish almost daily!
    I wish there was some article length control though. Some are too long and the font is too fucking small!

    Other than that, I look forward to Mahala emails.

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  11. Isolation says:

    I just want to say that I saw Bra Hugh last year at a jazz festival in the Vaal and he was great. Sure there was a little playing to the crowd in terms of what they want to hear. But hey, a musician like Bra Hugh has earned the right. His role in fighting apartheid cannot be overlooked and I have been buying up a few of his early seventies albums on vinyl and the man kicked ass. He was a true South African innovator and a legend to boot. Most musicians loose their edge as they get older, look at the Rolling Stones and that 80s period Dylan. If you don’t like Bra Hugh’s new music, don’t buy it, but if anyone is entitled in this country to express a view on SA music, its Bra Hugh. Great read Andy, keep up the good work!

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