Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

BBE to Issue Unreleased Masekela

Come March, trumpeter Hugh Masekela’s Presents from the Vaults of Chisa 1965-1976 will finally be released on BBE. The extensive collection of albums has been almost entirely out of print, until now.

The liner notes for the album, written by producer Stewart Levine, tell of how he and Masekela became friends and the struggle they faced to create a label to promote jazz and world fusion music. It began, Levine writes, after meeting Masekela in New York City in 1961. The two became close friends and, in September 1965, Masekela recorded a live album entitled The Americanization of Ooga Booga.

But as the years went on, both Levine and Masekela saw their beloved jazz scene drying up to Beatlemania and, hooked on Rubber Soul themselves, the two tried to make a break in the record business. The company they formed was called 00-Bwawa productions, a play on the James Bond character. Masekela suggested they record some of the traditional gospel they were familiar with and they went into the studio to begin the recording process in the fall of 1965. Some of the results of that first session are included in this compilation (“Joala, “Za Labalaba” and “Aredze”).

In the fall of 1966, they moved to California and established Chisa Records in hopes of creating a home for the world music they were passionate about. But the two eventually became disenchanted with the record industry and cut a deal in 1967 with Uni Records. While Uni had a massive hit with Masekela’s In the Grass, the label showed no interest in Masekela beyond the one hit, so the duo split and the additional Chisa albums were never released.

Chisa then moved to Motown in 1970. Motown liked the idea of creating “African American Music” and Chisa released Letta Mbulu and Motown distributed. Musicians Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Lamont Dozier were all advocators of the album, but Motown couldn’t find a way to market it and the Chisa/Motown relationship ended amicably.

The year 1975 brought the opening track on Presents from The Vaults, “Afro Beat Blues,” recorded with Ojah, who were Masekela’s band at the time. Ojah was made up of players from Ghana and Nigeria who Stewart and Hugh met while in Nigeria in 1973. Masekela’s “golden age” was from 1965-1975, the span of the album. Chisa produced many recordings and he experienced great success. More than a dozen of Masekela’s albums were produced during this period, which will finally see widespread commercial release in March.

Originally Published