12/16/13 By Ed Hamilton
Brown, Brando and Mandela
Ed Hamilton remembers the South African leader and his connection to jazz and American culture
Music has been the life fluid of South Africans protesting the South African Govts.'s practice of Apartheid-separation of races. By 1967, Hugh Masekela was forced to leave South Africa and came to America and the Americanization of Uuga Buuga (his first album) with his rendition of Jose Feliciano's “California Dreaming” and his cover of the Friends of Distinction’s “Grazin In the Grass” was his coming to America. Hugh had arrived and was now Americanized. And his wife Miriam Makeba was here singing “Pata Pata,” a Million seller Gold Record---her Emancipation. Jonathan Butler's “Sara Sara” açhieved him U.S. status and Dollar Brand's Jazz joy was illuminated with his newly adopted name change to Abdullah Ibrahim. They all had sought American asylum
In 1974, protest demonstration rallies were now in vogue across U.S. colleges and universities and extremely prominent on campuses of California universities and colleges. The catalyst lighting the fires of protest was ignited when it was revealed that The University of California System had 4.2 Billion Dollars invested with other U.S. businesses in South Africa.
So I decided to take part in a protest rally at Compton College---my alma mater and also alma mater of Sparky Anderson, James Coburn, Pete Rozelle, and 49er Joe Perry. A protest against American investments in South Africa and for the end of Apartheid and Mandela's freedom. He had now been imprisoned for ten years. As I drove onto the parking lot, I was humming “A Ladies Man” ànd thinking about the book The Last Tango In Paris. I just saw the movie and read the book. Nixon had just resigned, “A Ladies Man” was popular on KBCA the Jazz station in L.A.. And was written by the man who had written the most prolific lyrics to Jazz standards like “All Blues,” “Dis Here, Dat Der,” “Afro Blue,” “Jeannine.” And Last Tango starred the greatest actor of this decade. My thoughts and humming were slightly distracted by this white Rolls pulling into a space next to me. I hadn't paid any attention to who was driving and the others getting out. That was not until I sat down in my seat and two men and a lady, a very pretty lady, sat down in front of me. Then I flashed back to the Rolls and my humming and thoughts materialized as they sat down---It was Oscar Brown, Jr., his wife Jean Pace, and Marlon Brando---the greatest Jazz lyricist and the greatest actor taking part in this protest rally at Compton College. Protesting the South African Governmènt's Apartheid practice of racial segregation and the United States business investments there, and most impotantly---for the release of Madiba Nelson Mandela.
Twelve years later, with the help of the Black Càucus, championed by Ron Dellums and Maxine Waters of California, Congress and the Senate efforts overturned President Reagan's Veto---U.S. businesses could no longer invest in South Africa.
Pàul Simon gathered a group of South African Black musicians led by Hugh Masekela and traveled the world as the Graceland Band playing the music of South Africa and spreading the word through song of freeing Madiba Nelson Mandela and ceasing the Government's practice of Apartheid.
Masekela told fellow trumpeter Wynton Marsalis: "In 1984, Madiba had a letter smuggled out of Robben Island Prison saying to -me how proud he was that I had kèpt the efforts of the struggle going with my music. I immediately sat down at the piano and wrote ‘Free Mandela’---it became the anthem of the people that I sang at every one of my concerts around the world."
Hugh continued, "South African music has always been an integral part of the struggle to eliminate Apartheid." And on February 11, 1990 when Madiba walked out of prison holding hands with Winnie---after 27 years of incarceration, he was truly in the words of Martin Luther King,---Free At Last---and 3 years later elected the first Black President and the law of Apartheid ceased after 46 years. Oscar Brown, Jr., Marlon Brando, and myself had continued the fight and never gave up hope and in the words of Madiba Nelson Mandela "It always seems impossible---until it's done." And at the celebration of his life rains poured from the heavens and it was said the rains were the blessings from God welcoming Madiba Nelson Mandela into Heaven's Gate. In the words of Hugh Masekela “Let South Africans, their music, and Madiba's memory eternally give them Power to the People.
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