The biggest South-African musician for most Nigerians is Mariam Makeba, she was the struggle, in her we saw the pain, the grace, the ability to retain one’s dignity in such dark times. Her music was familiar and foreign at the same time. And when she danced we saw beauty in motion, sensuality and class.
She single-handedly started the fixation some Nigerian men have for South African ladies. She came to Nigeria for the first time in the 1960s as a member of the ANC and as a freedom fighter but also as wife to Hugh Masekela.
A friend told me Masekela plays an Orlando Julius tune at each concert, any of these three tunes: “Asiko, Awaade and Going back to my roots” (this information needs to be confirmed, but there’s no doubting Masekela’s admiration of Afrobeat and Orlando Julius). They both worked together in the US and were involved in the disco classic, “Going back to my roots”, which shares a lot with “Ashiko” but for which Orlando was not properly credited.
The song was originally written for Lamont Dozier (LP, “Peddlin’ Music On The Side”, 1977, Warner Bros). Masekela was also friends with Fela and he spent sometime in Nigeria staying and playing with him in the late 70s. He dedicated his album, “The Boys Doin’ It”, (LP, 1975, Casablanca Records), to him. The album contains a song titled Ashiko, composed by O.J Ekemode AKA Orlando Julius).
I met Hugh Ramopolo Masekela when he came for Lagos Jazz Series 2013 I was shooting the festival for the Organisers and had full access. He was practising Tai Chi behind the live stage and had a timeless quality like he was hewed from polished granite. We (Folarin my creative partner-at the time- and I) approached him afterwards and asked if we could shoot him privately. He agreed and when he had an hour we took him to the RadissonBLU, set up lights backing the Five Cowries Lagoon and started shooting.
He had tales for years, the one that stuck was when he was about 17, already a working artist and a member of the cool set of black bohemians. He and his girl at the time, were widely recognised as two of the sharpest dressers around. Alf Kumalo came round looking for a shot for Drum magazine. He told Masekela, “I need you to jump up with your hands spread out like so”. “I knew right away it was a bad idea, but Alf had a way you know, he was very persuasive a bit like you guys…”.
The picture came out and it was serialised, it epitomised for many, that bubbling effervescent, jazz revolution that was happening at the time in South Africa.” “My girl saw the picture and thought, very rightly that it was the corniest thing ever and she left me.”
“You know what…. I saw her recently and she said, ‘we could have grown old together but you had go take that stupid picture”.