Thirty five years ago (ye Gods) I was most of the way through my PGCE year. Bristol used to host a brilliant free festival each summer at the Ashton Court estate on the outskirts of town, just over the famous suspension bridge. That year the weather was really kind to the festival, and I’d spent most of the day wandering about, meeting friends and generally chilling out. I bumped into a pal from Bristol University, an overseas student from South Africa, and when I caught up with him he was very keen to drag me to the remote stage up in the far corner of the festival site; “You must come and see this guy play, he’s brilliant!”. “What’s he called?” “Hugh Masekela!, Hugh Masekela is playing here this afternoon! Can you believe it!” Evidently very excited about seeing this Hugh guy, I went along with Andrew to see what the fuss was about. The Hugh guy’s name meant nothing to me at the time, though I had already amassed a fair collection of other African music, a scattering from the first wave of what shortly became referred to as “World Music” by record shops who hadn’t a clue where to put the Sunny Ade, Mapfumo, Obey or Akendengue discs.
That first encounter was revelatory. I later thanked Andrew profusely for insisting that I had to see the guy play. It was the time of “Don’t Go Lose It Baby” and the first wide availability of Hugh Masekela’s music in the UK. The joy in the playing! The backing vocals (and the backing vocalists!), the sublime trumpet, the infectious rhythms, the sound of the bush and the back story of how the contemporary album (“Techno-Bush”) had been recorded over the border in a mobile studio, the whole romance of the politicised songs and the conviction of the musicians.
And now he’s gone. A pioneer has left the building. RIP