Preview: Masekela loves chances to play all over the world

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Being in exile for 30 years had professional and artistic advantages for South African-born trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who left his native land in the early 1960s.

Mr. Masekela comes to the New Hazlett Theater Sunday as part of the Kente Arts Alliance's "Africa Calling" series. But that doesn't mean that he approaches his life or art from a purely African perspective.

Hugh Masekela

Presented by: Kente Arts Alliance.

Where: New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square, North Side.

When: 7 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $45; $45, 1-888-718-4253.


"I've never analyzed or categorized what I do -- I've never limited myself to being an African person," says Mr. Masekela, who turns 75 Friday. "Because of my profession I've been privileged to go all over the world."

Mr. Masekela, who grew up outside Johannesburg, decided to play trumpet after seeing the movie "Young Man With a Horn." He moved to New York to attend the Manhattan School of Music. In the time since, he has recorded more than 40 albums as a leader, was featured on Paul Simon's seminal "Graceland" album, which included other South African musicians, and had that one pop hit, 1968's "Grazin' in the Grass," that made him famous.

His exile officially ended with the collapse of apartheid in 1990. He recalled growing up in South Africa. "We lived to beat the system. We were always one step ahead of the authorities."

He was happy to return.

"The greatest thing was to play with South African musicians and immerse myself in the culture," said Mr. Masekela, who today has a home in Johannesburg. "When I went back, things [had] drastically changed. The population more than quadrupled. There were more people suffering and more people were living in poverty." And even though apartheid is no more, he says, "It's going to take us very, very long to reverse its effects."

Mr. Masekela has two new recordings out. "Playing at Work" includes his regular band -- guitarist Cameron Ward, keyboardist Randall Skippers, bassist Fana Zulu, drummer Leeroy Sauls and percussionist Francis Fuster. "Duo" includes work with former Blood, Sweat and Tears pianist Larry Willis.

"We're going to be doing a lot of stuff together. We opened the London Jazz Festival," Mr. Masekela said of his partnership with Mr. Willis.

And that doesn't include all the TV and theatrical productions he's doing.

"I'm touring more than I have in my life," he says.

Rick Nowlin: rnowlin@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3871.


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