When Jazz Icon Hugh Masekela Took the Stage at Monterey

On Film / Short Takes — Jan 25, 2018

This week, the music world lost one of its luminaries with the death of Hugh Masekela, a brilliant multi-instrumentalist, composer, and singer long hailed as the “father of South African jazz.” In addition to developing a richly hybrid sound, which over the years came to incorporate everything from bebop, funk, and disco to the South African style mbaqanga, Masekela was a fearless anti-apartheid activist who infused his art with a spirit of political urgency.

Shortly after we heard the news, we spoke with D. A. Pennebaker, whose classic documentary Monterey Pop captures Masekela in one of the breakthrough performances of his early career. The filmmaker noted that what struck him about Masekela was how he served as a vital contrast to the rest of the concert lineup. “The film begins with Canned Heat playing ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’,’ followed by Simon & Garfunkel doing ‘The 59th Street Bridge Song’—personal performances, which I think is where music began. Then the film jumps into the big sound of Masekela and his band, and with that beginning I always think of the film as a kind of history of music.”

Below, take a look at Masekela igniting the Monterey stage with a rousing rendition of “Bajabula Bonke (The Healing Song),” a highlight from his 1968 album The Promise of a Future.