There are two types of African music aficionados. There are those who delve deep into the music and unearth gems from across a continent whose musicality has essentially been ignored by the West and there are those who only know Fela Kuti and Hugh Masekela. This record is one that should both appeal to and teach something new to both of those camps.
In patching together a program of Hugh Masekela's MGM recordings onto a single overstuffed CD, Verve took the original The Americanization of Ooga Booga album, leapfrogged over its successor, Next Album, and coupled it with the third MGM LP, The Lasting Impressions of Hugh Masekela. That made good sense since the two albums originate from the same live date at the Village Gate, recorded when the trumpeter was still in the process of making an impression in the U.S. Masekela is full of wild, sputtering, high-rolling exuberance, developing some of his familiar signature trumpet riffs, freely exploring South African rhythms, harmonic sequences, and chants, and mixing them with soul-jazz at a time when hardly anyone else would bother (the mixture of township jive and jazz works especially well on "U-Dwi").
Released as a double LP on Chisa/Blue Thumb in 1972, Hugh Masekela's Home Is Where the Music Is marked an accessible but sharp detour from his more pop-oriented jazz records of the '60s. Masekela was chasing a different groove altogether. He was looking to create a very different kind of fusion, one that involved the rhythms and melodies of his native South Africa, and included the more spiritual, soul-driven explorations occurring in American music at the time on labels like Strata East, Tribe, and Black Jazz as well as those laid down by Gato Barbieri on Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman imprint. The South African and American quintet he assembled for the date is smoking. It includes the mighty saxophonist Dudu Pakwana and drummer Makaya Ntshoko, both South African exiles; they were paired with American pianist Larry Willis and bassist Eddie Gomez, creating a wonderfully balanced, groove-oriented ensemble.
This classic recording has a beautiful balance of African aesthetics meet American soul, jazz, funk, rock and pop. The songs have a vintage sound that could only have been made by a South African playing American music in 1971. Along these lines, the album cover is the perfect visual representation of the music. While having a 1970's sound, "Hugh Masekela & the Union of South Africa" is by no means outdated, nor will it ever. The disc has an enjoyable mix of slow ballads, township infused instrumentals and fast funk. The song writing is superb, the musical improvisation is good and the voices soar.