a tale of two African giants—one a giant of enterprise, the other a giant of jazz, Africa’s “Father of Jazz” and trumpet maestro.
Their paths crossed in Ghana resulting in Mike Adenuga buying the trumpet of the world-acclaimed South African jazz icon who died in January of prostate cancer at the age of 78. The encounter is told in our long-awaited book, The GURU—Eyewitness Biography of Mike Adenuga slated for release this year at the next Dimgba Igwe Memorial book launch.
As Mike Adenuga’s biographer and a newsman, I cannot but report this exclusive news item in the light of the death of Masekela, a man who is to South Africa what Fela was to Nigeria. Incidentally Fela and Masekela were good friends. Masekela even did a cover version of Fela’s song Lady. But it’s for the Herb Albert-like song Grazing in the Grass, a song that topped the American Billboard chart in 1968 that Masekela is best remembered. Masekela’s biggest hit “Grazing in the Grass” conjures the image of a nomadic jazz man playing his music across the fields, across green pastures. Only that he didn’t kill people like the deadly Fulani herdsmen of the apocalypse ravaging our farmlands, leaving behind sorrow, tears and blood. Instead, he was the victim fleeing from the injustice, the brutality and the killing fields of apartheid and finding redemption in the jazz instrument of the trumpet that became his voice and weapon. As an activist, he simply used his trumpet to protest the cruelty and injustice of apartheid in songs like Soweto Blues and Bring Him Back (Nelson Mandela).
Jazz-wise, I won’t call myself a big fan of Hugh Masekela. But I love the sound of his horn which appeals to me more that the sound of his singing voice. Generally, I prefer the instrumental aspect of jazz music to the vocal part. And the trumpet is my favourite jazz music instrument. My favourite trumpeter will forever be Miles Davis. I like his style, the muffled sound of his trumpet and the ability to explore other musical territories to enlarge the coast of jazz. While jazz purists like Wynton Marsalis will stick to the orthodox New Orleans type of jazz, Miles Davis is ready to innovate, to explore other genres including rock music and “jazzifying” them. Take what he did with Michael Jackson’s Human Nature and Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.
My introduction to Miles Davis was through Willis Conover, the man called the “Voice of Jazz”, the deep baritone-voice broadcaster and disc jockey whose long-running “Jazz Hour” programme on Voice of America (VOA) radio introduced millions across the world to American jazz music.
I can never forget the first time I heard Miles Davis new album Tutu named after the South African bishop and anti-apartheid activist. Tutu remains my favourite album. It’s the album that has turned me into a Miles Davis devotee. Next to Tutu, I love Miles’ Kind of Blue rated as the No.1 jazz album of all-time.
I was watching the Hugh Masekela funeral ceremony where speaker after speaker paid homage to the late jazz icon. From Hugh Masekela’s promoter, I got to know that Masekela didn’t want to form his own band. He wanted to play with Miles Davis. But Miles Davis told him to go and form his own band and play “your African shit.”
So this “shit” and “shithole” thing about Africa popularized and sensationalized by Donald Trump has come a long way. From what I gathered, it was Miles Davis who challenged Hugh Masekela to form his own band which he then infused with his native South African brand of music. But for Miles Davis, Masekela would probably have been lost in the anonymity of American jazz. He wouldn’t have differentiated himself to be the African jazz leader that he is today even in death.
From listening to Willis Conover in my University of Lagos days in the mid-seventies, jazz has captured my soul. It is the music that inspires me as a writer. I remember the good old days in the Sunday Concord, when my editor, the legendary Dele Giwa killed by a parcel bomb initiated me into the jazz world of Earl Klugh, the acoustic guitar maestro. The Sunday Concord newsroom called “The Writer’s Enclave” was filled with Dele Giwa’s apostles like Soji Akinrinade, May Ellen Ezekiel, Lewis Obi, Banji Adeyanju, the late Dimgba Igwe, Chuma Adichie and the rest of them. I remember I was the resident deejay spinning jazz music from my massive tape recorder cum radio as we banged our typewriters to produce stories. There were no computers then as we have today.