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One place Masekela's particularly aware of that reality is in the music industry, which is partly why he opted to steer away from South Africa's multinational affiliates like EMI, GMB, and Universal and focus on his own Chissa Productions. "It wasn't so much of a political statement as it was not wanting to be part of the Western industrial system," he says. "There's no big mission except we give artists much better care." At Chissa, Masekela helps artists learn, develop, and record in their own style, and the profits are split 50/50. "They're the masters of their own talents," he says. Masekela's also busy exploring ways to bolster a vibrant African film industry that would be created by and for Africans but with a kind of universal appeal.
His projects are signs of at least some social progress, and they parallel strides in Masekela's personal life. This month marks his tenth anniversary of sobriety. "I'm not really that self-analytical, but when I was an alcoholic and drug abuser, I wasn't working at 100 percent of my capability," he says.
Adds the trumpeter, who's also become an advocate for HIV and drug prevention: "Since then, I'm more passionate. I'm at peace with myself and with everybody else, and I just wish that the rest of the people I come from had as enjoyable and privileged a life as I have."
Don't call Masekela a hero; he's stubborn about taking credit. "I don't consider myself an activist. In fact, I consider it abnormal for people who come from disadvantaged backgrounds to not bring the plight of their people to the forefront."
Though he's most recently been experimenting with traditional South African sounds, he says concertgoers at Wednesday's performance should expect an eclectic mix from his ten-piece band. "We're going to do proven favorites from my old repertoire and a cross section of South African music," he says. "We're rehearsing a tight show."
When New Times finally thanks him for his time and contribution to the world of music, he gets feisty again.
"It's not my music. I found it here. My life is about paying back what was given to me, and the interest is so high, I'll never be able to pay it back in full."