Home to the Story of South African Jazz
Interview Hugh Masekela
Hugh was part of the great King Kong cast. We asked him about King Kong the musical which was a topical subject at the time as John Matshikiza was in the process of restaging the musical. Hugh said backstage at the Galaxy venue in Rylands 2000:
It was a ground-breaking musical, very powerful. Jonas and I were the copiests and Kippie was one of the arrangers. It was like an assembly line, with the arrangers in one room, and us in another. They would churn out the arrangements and bring the orchestration to me and Jonas and we'd do the parts, and then rehearse it with a cast of seventy. It was star studded, with some of the prettiest women I've seen in my life: a wonderful experience!
The people, he says, are his main inspiration. And the world, being alive. But it's really about the ordinary people. And that's reflected in the band. Speaking about his current musical band, Hugh said:
The music relates to who the people really are, to the audiences, they enjoy it because we're a country in search of itself. We're obsessed with letting people have the confidence for it to be okay to be South African, 'cause it's great to be South African and we got the music. We're sort of a plebby group, but we're slowly roping in the Marie Antoinette's. They're also finding out that they are victims of the isolation. We're obsessed with bringing back the past with a now vibe.
Which means incorporating new sounds like kwaito?
Yeah, yeah kwaito. When we did mbaqanga in the '50s they said the same thing about it, ‘aagghh township music, it's for drunkards, and loose people who drink and take drugs, the chicks are loose, fucken rubbernecks', and people said ‘don't be a muso because you'll become a drunk', and when Brenda Fassie and Chico and them came out they were condemned the same way, ‘aagghh it's bubble gum'. But 5 years from now kwaito will be like our daily bread, 'cause it's culture from the townships, the majority of the population of this country are the youth, and that's their music.
Township music has always had a bad name. It's for drunkards, and loose people who drink and take drugs. I think that is bullshit.
I think of myself as just playing music. You know I grew up in school choirs, in church, I went to a classical conservatory, there's nothing I haven't played, so I think that it's bullshit about people being jazz, and kwaito and this and that. It's like when you see a pretty girl you don't say she's Indian, you just say, 'Whoa what a pretty babe', what a fox, you know what I mean. Music is either good or bad, the rest is bullshit.
In talking to Hugh Masekela, we also discovered that apart from people, life, the world and women, his music is also assisted by sushi!
I love sushi. You can eat it at midnight and not get nightmares. When I came out of rehab I had a major appetite. I had a major appetite before, so now I'm working on just eating nutritional food. Japanese food is expensive, but there isn't a sliver of fat anywhere, and I think we must shift ourselves in that direction.
When I left this country, people used to walk a lot, they were much more slender and much healthier looking, but now people don't walk and there's so much fast food, takeaways.
Hugh is revelling more than ever before in being South African and playing to South African audiences.
Yeah, I love South Africa, I'm a pig in mud. I was very homesick for 32 years, and I'm just knocked out to be home.