Preview: Jazz Odyssey, Barbican, London

Masekela trumpets jazz history
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The Independent Culture

When the trumpeter Hugh Masekela appears at the Barbican with a posse of his regular collaborators, the hall will be packed. He loves playing the venue, and feels perfectly at home - much more so than in his native South Africa. The reason is both sad and unexpected.

"Under apartheid, life for musicians was infinitely better than it is now. There was a lot of police control, but the streets were safe at night. Now they are not, and people prefer to stay at home. There's very little transport, very little safety.

"When we became politically 'free', our actual freedom was drastically curtailed. If you came to Johannesburg today, I would have nowhere to take you to hear live music. The entertainment industry is virtually dead. People like myself - and Miriam Makeba, and Abdullah Ibrahim, and the Mahotella Queens, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo - can work overseas, but I don't know how musicians who can't travel manage to live, because there's so little work."

So for now, South Africa's loss is our gain, because Masekela is walking musical history. Given his first trumpet by proto-activist Father Trevor Huddleston, he became a key member of the jazz movement that blossomed in the townships during the early apartheid years.

Louis Armstrong was one of their first heroes, and with his friends the pianist Abdullah Ibrahim (then known as Dollar Brand) and the singer Miriam Makeba (whom he later married), Masekela beat a path to New York where he absorbed the music of Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonius Monk.

Listen to the work he and his pupils produced in the Seventies and Eighties, and you'll see how different South African jazz is from its cloistered and self-regarding American equivalent. The juices are flowing from tribal roots.

As well as the Barbican concert, Hugh Masekela will present the Radio 3 World Music Awards on 7 April.

30 March (020-7638 8891; www.barbican.org.uk)

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