World Cup preparations, Hugh Masekela’s memoir

Hugh Masekela will play in the opening concert for the 2010 World Cup.

World Cup anticipation is reaching a fever pitch in South Africa as the countdown to the opening match between the host nation and Mexico reaches its final days.

Stories about the lower than anticipated number of visitors, the disadvantageous terms the government agreed to with FIFA to host the event, and iconic figure Nelson Mandela’s hoped-for attendance have filled the online pages of the Mail and Guardian.

Another intriguing topic: the call by an artist’s union for a boycott of the opening concert.

The artists’ concern is that too few South African performers are among the concert’s acts, which include Americans Alicia Keys and John Legend.

The number of South African artists has been raised from three to seven, and that higher total is not enough for boycott advocates.

Fabled trumpeter, entrepreneur and activist Hugh Masekela will be one of the South African artists performing in the concert.

Still Grazing, his memoir, shares his often turbulent journey from humble beginnings to world-wide renown and, eventually, some measure of inner peace.

A child of the apartheid era, Masekela came early to the trumpet, and learned quickly that he had considerable talent.  His abilities led to his going to the United States.

This was only the beginning, though, of Masekela’s odyssey.  Still Grazing tells in graphic detail his periods of drug addictions, his failed marriages, including to Miriam Makeba, and wild partying scenes with people like Nigerian musical legend Fela and boxing promoter Don King, who was stark naked during a negotiation, according to the author.

Masekela also tells the story of how he came up with the song “Bring Him Back Home” about the then-imprisoned ANC leader and gives a behind-the-scenes look at the musical festival in the former Zaire that led up to the epic fight between Mohammed Ali and George Foreman.

In the end, Masekela sheds his self destructive behavior and finds contentment with his third wife.  This proverbial happy ending may seem a bit neat as the culmination of a narrative arc, and, for me, Masekela’s straightforward, if generally favorable, look at his often unsavory behavior gives the final section credibility, in my view.

Whatever one thinks of the conclusion, the preceding hundreds of pages are more than worth the reader’s attention, in my opinion.  As the countdown to the opening game continues, consider taking a look at Masekela’s Still Grazing.  My bet is that you won’t regret it.

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