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December 2004

Hugh Masekela and D. Michael Cheers
Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela

There's a story behind every great song, of course, and the one behind South African trumpeter and flugelhornist Hugh Masekela's worldwide smash "Grazing in the Grass" is over pretty quickly. He learned the happy jam in 90 minutes and recorded, overdubbed and mixed it in Los Angeles in two hours. Phil Ochs, recording in an adjoining room, sauntered over to play guitar and hold a cowbell as Masekela thumped out the song's steady rhythm on a pair of drumsticks.

Of course, that famous ditty is just one small part of the life of the 65-year-old Masekela. It's a fascinating look at Masekela's early life growing up under the oppression of apartheid where, as a teenager, he resolved to pursue the life of a famous trumpet player who would get the chicks after watching, spellbound, as Kirk Douglas showed him the way in a movie called Young Man With a Horn.

Masekela details a stark picture of a hardscrabble existence around Johannesburg-where music was thankfully omnipresent-and of subsequent success in the United States, where he hobnobbed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Marlon Brando, Marvin Gaye and many others. To his credit, Masekela doesn't back off from personal demons, detailing his early addiction to booze, experimenting with drugs and his on-again, off-again relationship to South African exile-turned-icon Miriam Makeba, whom he briefly married.

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