Trumpeter, singer, and bandleader Masekela is to South African township music what Bob Marley was to reggae: a name that's become shorthand for struggle and redemption, and a sound that's been appropriated over and over again by American pop stars in everything from Paul Simon's Graceland to Friends of Distinction's soul version of his "Grazin' in the Grass." The bandleader's messianic status is well deserved. Coming up as a jazz trumpeter in apartheid South Africa, he was stiffed on gig payments and jilted by a white musicians' union. When state-sponsored unrest drove him to London and eventually, New York, he matriculated at the Manhattan School of Music. There, Masekela got in touch with his funk.
New York label Four Quarters Entertainment has found a way to showcase the politics, musicianship, and legacy of Hugh Masekela in this new double album. Recorded in a Johannesburg theater, it's a compendium of his most stirring compositions, including "Grazin' in the Grass," the oft-mentioned "Stimela" which discusses the execrable working conditions for South African miners and the anthemic "Mandela (Bring Him Back Home)." Rest assured that this isn't just protest music over boppy highlife rhythms; the sophistication of the arrangements give the album replay value, and make it palatable for those not hip to South African politics. Not to mention that on half the tracks, you'll even hear the audience singing along.
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