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Ready For The World
on June 27, 2000
When I was still counting my years on two hands, Hugh Masekela was making a bold impression, indeed, on America, topping the U.S. pop chart with "Grazing In The Grass." It's flipside also made an impression on me. "Bajabula Bonke" was the first song of African origin I ever listened to at length. Without understanding the words or their exact meaning (I was 8), I was touched by the spirit of the storyteller that is so much a part of African history. It also featured a kind of rhythm I'd never encountered before; very much unlike what prevailed in those days on Black radio. This album, recorded about three days earlier, contains a live performance in New York City by a very young Masekela, including a less-polished version of "Bajabula Bonke." Hugh was still married to Miriam Makeba at this time, and he learned many songs from her (Makeba's mother was an asongoma, one who told stories/history through song). Masekela is not yet a master on this set, which is preserved here as one performance (the original release on vinyl was divided onto two albums), but he is already a journeyman soloist. He has a vision, and he and his combo are fleshing it out as they go along. This album is the root of the World Beat movement as we know it. Masekela and company are combining elements of Africa, Cuba, South America, and good ol' American Jazz into a new form; a form which could truly traverse the world. I think Hugh wanted to make an impact, so the first five cuts on this performance seem strongest. But there are other fine performances, like on "Masquenada." He displays fine range and good mechanics as a singer, which has always been a very underrated part of his game. Listen to Hugh's version of "Canteloupe Island" and compare it to the hugely popular hip-hop version of a few years ago. Hugh definitely made an impact. It has taken years, but Hugh has remained true to his roots and his causes, and is highly respected worldwide. If you want to hear his sound fully realized, seek out his album, "Tomorrow." This CD shows you the process of creative alchemy. Hugh Masekela takes Manhattan and shows that he is ready for the World. If you want to hear some of these same songs in a more traditional South African style, check out Miriam Makeba's late 80s release, "Sangoma."