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.
Presumably to commemorate his 60th birthday, Hugh Masekela released an album of primarily African works. The album starts with a tribute to Fela, a kindred spirit in African horn playing and a friend of Masekela. After that, it moves on through a number of traditional songs and trips down memory lane. The liner notes give a good deal of background information on each of the songs (always a plus). From time to time, the music seems to slip into something of a contemporary Harry Belafonte-esque sound (which perhaps might not be completely surprising, given the repeated collaborations between Belafonte and Miriam Makeba, coupled with Masekela's marriage to Makeba). Despite (or due to) any such similarities that may arise, this is international pop at its best. Also, the backing vocals of the Family Factory group are exceptional, at the very least.
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 While having a 1970's sound, "Hugh Masekela & the Union of South Africa" is by no means outdated, nor will it ever.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.
Hugh Masekela has an extensive jazz background and credentials, but has enjoyed major success as one of the earliest leaders in the world fusion mode. Masekela's vibrant trumpet and flugelhorn solos have been featured in pop, R&B, disco, Afro-pop, and jazz contexts. He's had American and international hits, worked with bands around the world, and played with African, African-American, European, and various American musicians during a stellar career. His style, especially on flugelhorn, is a charismatic blend of striking upper-register lines, half-valve effects, and repetitive figures and phrases, with some note bending, slurs, and tonal colors.