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Hugh Masekela – Phola

2009-07-21 11:42

The "Phola" the trumpeter riffs off on this deceptively laid back collection of Afro-beat filtered jazz infusions is a call to consciousness to address such pressing issues as poverty, starvation, disease and global warming. Relax. Phola is no finger wagging, Afro-pessimist preach. It's a far more meditative, inspirational sermon that, as the elder statesman of SA jazz explains in his liner notes is simply an invocation to help us "get well, to heal. To relax, to chill." 

Hang on, Hugh Masekela chilling? Has the firebrand who penned such protest song classics as "Stimela" finally run out of steam? Of course not. Sure, thanks to Erik Paliani's slick production, he sounds breezier than ever before. But no, this doesn't mean Bra Hugh has suddenly gone Kenny G. "Bring It Back Home" is a potent bass 'n piano powered funk ballad rapped critique of corrupt African politicians who've lost touch with the working class masses who voted them into power. Similarly, the Afrobeat-fuelled "Weather" and the 'quiet storm' sensitivity of "Hunger" are heartfelt calls for a return to Ubuntu values that simultaneously chastise the new moneyed elite for putting multi-national corporate profit motives before ecological and humanitarian concerns.

And the more personal songs are just as bewitching. "Ghana" and "Sonnyboy" are enchanting autobiographical asides in which Hugh recounts how he met his wife and reflects on his journey towards finding liberation in music. Finally though, it's Paliani's (cf. Zamajobe) uncluttered arrangements that deserve a 'thumbs up' for giving Hugh more space than he's had in ages to show off his still impressive solo chops. The result are some seriously lyrical flugelhorn solos that flow from Pan African guitar groover ("Mwanayu Wakula") and a beatific Afrobeat ballad conversation with guitarist Jimmy Dludlu ("Malungelo") to a polyrhythmic smooth funk instrumental makeover of his classic 1968 hit "Grazing in the Grass" ("Moz") and the sublime "Joke of Life" that swings to a cinematic cool last heard on Miles Davis' Siesta.

Don't let that title – vernacular for "cool down" – deceive you. Bra Hugh may be celebrating his 70th birthday this year, but he isn't ready to go gently into that smooth jazz night just yet.

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mpe 2009/07/21 6:43 PM
tata hugh is a legend like madiba. these wise old men should be leading our country.
bafana 2009/07/24 10:01 AM
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bhasobha nansi indoda emnyama the leaders of the nation i recognise them as the legends that are wise in the country of democracy.
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