Born and raised in the oppression of South African apartheid, by the mid-1950s, Hugh Masekela became one of the most in-demand young musicians in all of South Africa, working with pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and his own future musical partner and spouse, singer Miriam Makeba. Wielding his trumpet like a weapon, he soon developed into a raw and powerful player, inspired by African-American artists like Miles Davis and Paul Robeson.
While enrolled at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in the 1960s, he was exposed to the American jazz scene and the culture of New York City opened up a world of new possibilities. As the intense cultural changes of the '60s unfolded, Masekela's music also began to change, incorporating contemporary musical elements into the mix. Along with a whole new wave of rock bands, Masekela was ushered into the American consciousness by his appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where he truly emerged, along with artists like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. The following year, he hit it big with "Grazing In The Grass," which shot up to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts.
After riding a wave of popular success through the late-1960s, Masekela returned to his homeland in 1970, joining Miriam Makeba for a tour of Guinea. It was during this tour that he first met the Nigerian AfroBeat musician, Fela Kuti, and the Ghanian band, Hedzoleh Soundz, who were blazing through Africa with a new form of jazz-funk that was heavily influenced by the interlocking rhythms of AfroBeat and the thick grooves of James Brown. In 1973, they made the breakthrough album, "Introducing Hedzoleh Soundz." Even decades later, this album remains one of the most compelling examples of a jazz musician working within an authentic form of African music. It is rightly considered one of the greatest and most influential African-Jazz fusion albums of all time.
Which brings us to 1974, when Masekela and Hedzoleh Soundz brought their highly original music to American audiences for the first time. Thankfully, this Record Plant recording captures this historical moment in crystal clarity. One of the finest examples here is "Languta," a standout track from the above-mentioned album. Every second of this performance cooks with volatile tribal rhythms and thick sumptuous bass and guitar work. Add to this Masekela's blistering trumpet runs and the belted out African vocals, and a swirling wave of sound engulfs the listener into a world awash with emotion. As cerebral as this piece of music is, it still remains ultimately danceable. Another highlight is "Stimela (Coal Train)," destined for the album "I Am Not Afraid," which would be recorded during the following months. This more somber introspective song, which references the train that carried men into the Johannesburg mines (and is not a reference to John Coltrane, as some have speculated) predates and signals the arrival of a whole new genre- world music.
Toward the end of this remarkable set, the group begins stretching out, first with "Love Song For A Jungle Afternoon," bringing light to the darker feel of some of the songs that preceded it. Taken as a whole, this lengthy composition is feel good music in its most literal sense, spreading a musical message of love that transcends any language barriers. This is a phenomenal performance and recording from a particularly fascinating time in Masekela's career, when he was truly transcending musical and cultural boundaries.