My Life In Travel: Hugh Masekela, jazz musician
'In Bath, I feel I might meet Caesar'
Saturday 24 July 2010
First holiday memory?
My first holiday was also the first time my sister Barbara and I saw the ocean in Durban. My father's younger sister, Aunt Clara, was chief administrator of McCord Hospital in Durban and she lived in a white and Indian suburb. It was 1949 and apartheid was in its embryonic stages. I was 10 years old and Barbara and I slept in our own compartment on that magical train journey, a South African bird's-eye view of the mouth-watering vistas, rainbows and waterfalls. It was fantasic
Elinam, my wife, is from Ghana. A holiday there is pure paradise unleashed. I play tennis, walk for hours in the early morning steam-bath heat, swim, do t'ai chi, eat the most delicious foods, dance, marvel at the traditional singing, dancing and drumming and find fabulously genius clothing and art.
Favourite place in the British Isles?
I always feel I might run into Julius Caesar in Bath. The architecture, though millennia old, is so much more delightful than modern eyesores of most metropolises. I enjoy the historic atmosphere during solitary walks, which have a way of evoking the sounds of Roman horses and chariots.
What have you learnt from your travels?
That the world is full of endless wonders. Go to it, open all the damn borders – the world is for everyone to live in. Ask any bird.
Ideal travelling companion?
The musicians in our band – Fana, Garrick, Francis, Lee-roy, Rapelang, Cameron and Randal – are very supportive of each other, they wow audiences, play very beautiful music, talk unending loads of comedy, laugh uproariously and never moan. You can't beat that for travel.
Beach bum, culture vulture or adrenalin junkie?
I seek out heritage culture wherever I go. In Georgia I raid the churches and chapels and marvel at Gregorian singing. In West Africa, it's the traditional dance, drums and fathomless anthology of music accompanying exquisite art design and fashion; the same goes for all of Asia. The Caribbean and Indian Ocean islands are for music, dance, design, art, great eating and swimming.
Greatest travel luxury?
Flying business or first class is the ultimate experience in comfort and pampering.
I am finishing a second novel. Writing means a great deal of re-reading and re-writing and I have to do that a lot. I also read film scripts that I am helping to develop. I read novels mostly written by African-American, Indian, Caribbean and some African writers, when I can.
Where has seduced you?
Ghana. I love the humidity – it helps perspire toxins from your body. The music is divine; the people are unreasonably hospitable; the paintings and sculpture designs are breathtaking; and the swimming is addictive.
The Table Bay Hotel in Cape Town is fantastic.
Best meal abroad?
Any meal in Accra, Ghana!
Better to travel or arrive?
I do not enjoy the driving, hotel check-ins, flying, checking-out, packing, immigration and security parts of travel. Something needs to be done about plane meals, food in European airports and train stations – it's covered in one kind of bread or another. The only part I enjoy is being in a place.
Worst travel experience?
The worst travelling experience is air turbulence, especially over the ocean, tropical jungles or deserts.
In 1989, Paul Simon was really intrigued with the idea of taking the Graceland concert to Russia at the beginning of glasnost. As part of a European tour, we took a train from Helsinki to Leningrad where we spent a fortnight eating chicken, cheap caviar and fish. In Moscow, the security was militaristic and the taxi drivers and most citizens called The Patrice Lumumba University [founded to help students from developing countries] "The Zoo".
We stayed at the Hotel Rossiya next to the Kremlin in Moscow and we had a near fist-fight because the maid refused to clean my room because of my complexion. All of Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon's CDs were stolen from there, too.
First thing you do when you arrive somewhere new?
I take a long, hot shower and then, if possible, a swim.
I would love to spend six weeks travelling through Vietnam and India.
Hugh Masekela plays at the Brecon Jazz Festival, 6-8 August (tickets and information: 01497 822 629; www.breconjazz.org).
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