South African legend Hugh Masekela recalls those who paved his path and Monterey Pop ’67

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Last week I had the honor of speaking to South African trumpeter/singer/composer Hugh Masekela, who turns 76 in April. Masekela is not only an accomplished jazz and world musician, with several Top 40 albums, a No. 1 hit and a rich history of collaborators, but a storied chronicler of the freedom movement during apartheid. Masekela is currently on tour in the United States along with country mate Vusi Mahlasela, performing songs of the freedom movement and marking 20 years of a free South Africa. The tour makes a stop in Berkeley on March 11. Read my short story. Here are a few extras from our chat.

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Your music really laid the footsteps for a lot of African artists throughout the years with success in Europe and the U.S.

The person who really opened it for us was Miriam Makeba. We grew up together and were husband and wife at one time. She asked me to come to the United States to go to music school, along with Harry Belafonte, who she was working with at that time.

Did performing at the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 have a big impact on your career?

Not really. I think that at Monterey Pop, I was not as noticed as Janis Joplin, or Otis Redding, or The Who, or Jimi Hendrix. They are people whose careers really catapulted from that. But I was already on a roll when that came around (festival). And the following year, I had a number one record. In 1967, I had a couple of top 40 records, so my career was in the making. But it was just another festival. I played a lot of festivals. I was very tight with what I would call activist musicians.  My best friends were people like David Crosby, Steven Stills, and Jimi Hendrix became a great friend. And Paul Simon – we had the same producer.

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