But when Masekela finally returned to South Africa in 1990, after Apartheid laws weakened and Nelson Mandela was released from prison, what did he find?
He found a splintered music scene where the various subgenres that contributed to South African music’s richness competed against one another instead of amassing combined influence, not to mention finding that white entrepreneurs controlled the music industry.
Masekela perceived hope and promise in the young producers of Kwaito music, roughly comparable to American hip-hop and rap, because they took control of their own destinies and formed their own labels. In addition, Masekela found opportunity to bridge the gaps between subgenres and to find additional relevance for his well-known style among the Kwaito enthusiasts.
The result is Revival, which adopts the attitudes and style of Kwaito musician/producers Zwai Bala and Godfrey "Guffy" Pilane and applies Masekela’s amalgam of jazz, Afrikaan folkloric music, work songs , church music, a capella urban music, R&B, songs of political protest, blues, Afropop, jazz, and township dance. At the same time that the music of Revival delves into the historic origins of South African music, it also updates the country’s music by addressing modern, post-Apartheid concerns. In the process, Masekela stands out as the clear leader of the session, as he not only plays trumpet with his readily identifiable style of the past thirty-plus years, but also sings the lead vocals, plays keyboards and in general has a great time.
The first song, "After Tears," is in the spirit of Masekela’s past recordings, particularly "Grazing In The Grass," as his clearly stated, uplifting horn lines carry the melody, backed by guitarist Jimmy Dludlu’s accents. But the singing begins on "Woman Of The Sun," Zwai Bala’s musical description, supposedly, of the modern South African woman, sophisticated and original because she attended Harvard, wears her hair in braids, listens to Ravi Shankhar, has an indigenous accent, donates money to charities and engages in political activism. And the remainder of Revival consists mostly of singing, such as the lyrics on "Spring," a depiction of the season as inducing spring fever, falling in love, washing windows and important seasonal things like that. Bala’s "Fresh Air" features Masekela on cup-muted trumpet, intertwining with Khaya Mahlangu’s flute and accented by Francis Fuster’s triangle for unhurried atmospheric effect. In some cases, rather than call-and-response interaction of rising intensity, some of the songs like "Open The Door" involve a chorus, in this case a male chorus, responding to a single singer, in this case Malaika, who leads the performance.
Like Miriam Makeba and Abdullah Irbrahim, Hugh Masekela too carried with him through his musical career the infinitude of sounds heard during his formative years in South Africa, even though he spent much of his life in exile. Now that Masekela has returned, excited by the evolving musical developments there, he has decided to continue pushing the envelope, using music to unite rather than to divide, instead of remaining in place musically. Revival represents the breadth of South African music, even though seventy-plus minutes aren’t long enough to cover it all, as it retains the joy and honesty, even under suppression, that always characterized the music.