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  • Writer's pictureJOHN OSLER'S UPBEAT Admin




I have lived a very comfortable life.  I am also pretty satisfied with what I have. I too often remain in my soft place and just get angry when things go wrong.

Then there are others who stand up and make a difference. Sometimes it isn’t easy.

Painting by William Hahn


One who goes before, as into the wilderness preparing the way for others to follow.



This past week Hugh Masekela, 78, died. During his life he tore up the jazz scene in South Africa and the USA with both his trumpet and with his voice against injustice. He never hesitated to venture down new paths and was definitely a pioneer of South African jazz. He was part of the be-bop sextet the Jazz Epistles. This group broke new musical ground and attendance records in Cape Town.  Their success came to a screeching halt when the South African government banned public gatherings of more than 10 black people. The ban was put in place following the massacre of 69 protesters by police in a township near Johannesburg. Soon after black artists were forced underground, Hugh Masekela  left for the USA and New York City. He never forgot the richness and the trials of his homeland, and his music remained rooted in both the discord and the sounds of Africa. He is quoted as saying “I was marinated in jazz and I was seasoned in music from home”.

I remember hearing him play in a jazz concert in Detroit and then later when he was featured with Paul Simon and  Ladysmith Black Mambazo on the Graceland tour.

His song Bring Him Back Home made me aware of the struggle to free Nelson Mandela,  who was languishing in a South African prison. Hugh Masekela  returned to live in South Africa in 1990, the year Nelson Mandela was being freed and apartheid was ending.

He ventured out, clearing a way that made it easier for others.

His passing reminded me that it took voices like his to awaken me and others to the wonders and misunderstandings of Africa.


Growing up in a somewhat rural suburb of Detroit, I knew of the existence of Africa through Tarzan movies and later the Joseph Conrad novel, Heart of Darkness. Africa was mostly referred to as the dark continent. It was a mysterious land that was only accessible by snake filled rivers winding through dense jungles. At least to a young mind, that was the impression. Geography class brought some light and then at some point I heard Miriam Makeba and Hugh Maskala’s powerfully emotional music. There were suddenly a lot of bells going off. There was a lot more to this world than I had known before.


“Why was Africa called the Dark Continent?” Europeans called Africa the Dark Continent because of the mysteries and the savagery they expected to find in the interiorIt seems that this answer was convenient. By dehumanizing Africa and Africans, Europeans  made slavery more palatable. They knew a lot about Africa , but they began ignoring real information. Maps left out huge swaths in the center of this large land mass. There was a purpose to keeping the history of the continent a mystery. Books could be written, men with guns could have adventures and villages could be pillaged. Demonization and fear made horrendous deeds acceptable.

AFRICA / JOHN OSLER         Oil/Canvas

So what have we learned?

The answer is: We have learned new words for the Dark Continent.

African countries were recently referred to in more defamatory names than The Dark Continent by President Trump. He was using his “scare his base” playbook. He really didn’t want those people to migrate into our clean space. The facts are that African immigrants to the US are one of the most educated groups in the United States. Some 48.9 percent of all African immigrants hold a college diploma. This is more than double the rate of native-born white Americans,

Our President is again finding convenient names for African nations and for all the same dreadful reasons. It is as if time has stood still. It seems that we haven’t learned anything. Apparently It is still convenient to paint other cultures with fearful and ugly images.

I think we all know that we have a President who doesn’t think any more clearly about things than I did as an uninformed kid. He only knows what he thinks it will take to win.

Unfortunately, our immigration policies are being formed by taking his rhetoric into the mix.

What we have is a need for clearer headed voices. I am sure we will likely find them again in our music and musicians. Listen.

John Osler

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