PETER TROMP spoke to legendary South African musician HUGH MASAKELA, who will be performing two shows in Cape Town over the coming week. He will grace the Kirstenbosch stage as part of their Old Mutual Summer Sunset Concerts series on Sunday March 25 and will perform at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival, which will take place at the CTICC on March 30 and 31.
What is it like for you to perform to Cape Town audiences?
I don’t think in geographical terms when I think of or prepare for a performance. I think the performance level of the group is very good and we’re very gelled so Capetonians will get a good show. I think anywhere in the world, if you play well for the people they will enjoy it. We just got back from Europe and the United States and we were very well received.
We even got the Japanese to dance, and they’re not really thought of as the dancing type. The aim is purely to get the people to enjoy themselves and make it worthwhile for them having spent their money.
We don’t take their support for granted so it is very important to us that they leave feeling good. The last time we played in Cape Town three years ago we played the last performance of the festival, at the time of my 70th birthday, and 16000 people left singing the final song. That is the sign of a good show.
How do you go about choosing a set list for every concert? It must be quite difficult to whittle down an entire career’s music into a handful of songs.
At the Jazz fest we are doing a tribute to Miriam Makeba with Freshlyground’s Zolani Mahola, Vusi Mahlasela and Thandiswa Mazwai, so that’s straightforward enough. We started with that in Europe and people can’t get enough of it.
Kirstenbosch will be a different show, with maybe one or two songs overlapping between the two shows. As we speak, I’m working on a new album with (players like) Cameron Ward, a young guitarist from Cape Town and bass player Fana Zulu, who I have been playing with for a long time now and that energy will inform the performance.
I’ve been playing for three years with this band very tightly (sic) and it has become a powerful vehicle so I think the audience will be very happy that they came.
You used your music as a vehicle for political change during the struggle years. Since there is no cause as enveloping as apartheid right now, what do you think musicians can do these days to ensure their music is socially relevant?
I think that is a personal choice. In reality it is incumbent in everybody to stand against injustice. Some people are complacent during oppression, others are proactive. That being said, music shouldn’t necessarily be about wanting to change the world. It is a skill first and one that needs to be developed and practiced. We grew up in mass rallies and boycotts when I was growing up; that was our reality, and we chose to express that in our music
I was a musical student first and foremost. Before (the trumpet) I was a piano player; I was just possessed by music. One thing I know is that if you get your music from a disadvantaged people and you don’t talk about it, then you are just a selfish bastard. People who are only about themselves self destruct very quickly anyway. The most crucial practitioners of creativity have always drawn from their society and communities – no one is an island. For modern day musicians I would say listen around you and to everyone and become inspired by that. Just because we aren’t oppressed anymore doesn’t mean that there isn’t inspiration to tell socially conscious stories.