South African jazz legend and anti-apartheid activist Hugh Masekela has died at the age of 78 after a long battle with prostate cancer.
I first encountered his music in 1987 at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia when he performed alongside Miriam Makeba and Ladysmith Black Mambazo as part of Paul Simon’s Graceland tour. Until then my exposure to South African music had been limited to a single album of “township jive” and kwela that I’d found in the discount bin of the used record store near the offices of the newspaper where I worked.
That concert was a moment of musical awakening for me, leading me to explore and fall in love with the richness and diversity of African music, from the Zulu choral tradition embodied by Ladysmith, to the dance music of Senegal and artists like Youssou N’dour, to Nigerian Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti, and beyond.
The video below features a performance from the Graceland concert staged in Zimbabwe in 1987. Masekela is featured starting at the 1:50 mark. The video quality isn’t very good, but the sound is great. Below it is a video of one of Masekela’s most famous songs, “Coal Train,” recorded live at a festival in England in 1986.