Music for your speakers: Hugh Masekela’s Hope

Not only do they sell the world’s finest hi-fi, but Graham’s Hi-Fi shop in Islington, London also stocks a carefully chosen selection of CDs and vinyl. So who better to ask what recordings they recommend to truly get the best from your speakers.

In the first of a new series of monthly posts, Grahams recommend the always inspirational South African’s 1993 live album, Hope.

Born in a South African township in 1939, the trumpeter and flugelhorn player, Hugh Masekela left his homeland in 1960 to escape apartheid and lived in the UK, and later in the USA.

With the late Miriam Makeba, to whom he was married for a while, he opposed apartheid and conditions in South Africa through his music, which is a mixture of pop, jazz and township.  In the early 1990s, with the repeal of the last of the apartheid laws, the stage was set for the first multi-racial democratic elections in South Africa since 1948, when the National Party came into power and started to implement the policy of apartheid.  The 1994 elections were won by the African National Congress Party led by Nelson Mandela, who had served twenty-seven years in jail for opposing the government, and was only released in 1990.

In early 1993 Masekela, aware of the upcoming elections, returned to South Africa and gathered a group of young African musicians with whom he toured the world, playing songs from his repertoire that he had performed over his forty year career.  He called this his ‘hope’ tour, hope for the rehabilitation of his country which had been shunned by the civilized world. This album, Hope, was recorded live in a club called Blues Alley in Washington DC, in 1993, a place where Eva Cassidy was to record her last album two and a half years later.  It contains some of his political songs like ‘Mandela (Bring Him Back Home!)’, as well as  ‘Grazin’ In The Grass’, which topped the pop charts in the USA in 1968.

Test track

However, the highlight of all Masekela’s live concerts to this day, and the highlight of Hope, is the last track on the album, Stimela (The Coal Train).  This extraordinary track is one of our favourite demonstration tracks.  It should sound like the musicians are playing in your room.  Stimela starts with some drumming which then stops.  Masekela then chants the story of the African migrant workers conscripted from Mozambique, Angola, Zambia and all over Southern and Central Africa, who cursed the coal train that brought them from their families in their homelands to work in the mines of Johannesburg, to dig and drill for gold and diamonds.  They had to live in squalid conditions, and work for sixteen hours a day for next to no pay.

He imitates the rhythm of the train and then lets out a piercing shriek to mimic the train’s whistle.  This is followed by the drums and percussion once again, which this time quickly builds up to a crescendo, followed by a Masekela solo on the flugelhorn, before the whole band join in.  The shriek and the drums will test the dynamics of any hi-fi system.

If you have sufficiently good taste to own a pair of Bowers & Wilkins 802 Diamonds, or, even better, a pair of 800 Diamonds, this is the track to show them off.

Paul Janove, Graham’s Hi-Fi, London


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