<p>When Hugh Masekela says he never thought he’d live to see the end of apartheid, the great South African trumpeter is referring as much to the wild lifestyle he’s survived as the entrenched system of white supremacy that impoverished and oppressed several generations of his people.
One of Africa’s most influential musicians, Masekela created a hugely popular sound by blending the rhythms and songs of his township youth with American jazz and rhythm and blues. His crossover hits from the late 1960s, particularly “Grazing In the Grass,” helped open the door for other African musicians, while he used his celebrity as a platform to speak out against the brutality of South Africa’s apartheid government.
Masekela celebrates the release of his latest CD — “Live at the Market Theatre,” a two-disc album on Times Square Records — on Sunday afternoon as part of the 70th Annual Stern Grove Festival.
The free concert also features Oakland-raised neo-soul singer Goapele, whose parents met in Kenya, where her exiled South African father was training with the ANC, a frontline organization in the fight against apartheid.
Exile is a theme that runs through Masekela’s bracingly honest autobiography, “Still Grazing” (Crown Books). The memoir is told from the perspective of a man immersed in recovery, ruefully examining both his outsized accomplishments and countless blown opportunities washed away in a numbing torrent of booze, cocaine and one-night trysts.
Since cleaning up about eight years ago, he’s settled down in a stable marriage and is playing better than ever, rejuvenated at an age when many brass players are losing their chops. “I’m 10 times stronger,” says Masekela, 68. “I think my style of play is much richer now. I think when you get sobriety you open up. When you’re messed up, you’re always catching up and compromising and coping. When you’re straight, you’re just blasting!”
The trumpeter first made his mark in Jazz Epistles, a sextet of brilliant young South African improvisers including pianist/composer Dollar Brand (now known as Abdullah Ibrahim). But when the government banned any gatherings of more than 10 blacks after the Soweto Uprising, Masekela slipped out of the country one step ahead of the security forces.
In New York City, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis urged Masekela to forge a personal style drawing on his South African heritage as well as the hard bop that he loved.
He’s been building on their advice ever since.
IF YOU GO
Where: Sigmund Stern Grove, 19th Avene and Sloat Boulevard, San Francisco
When: 2 p.m. Sunday
Contact: (415) 252-6252, www.sterngrove.org