An African Minute: Hugo Million Puts 'The Medicine in the Candy'

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We've had our eye on Hugo Million, the Congo-born, American-raised rapper ever since he debuted his LP Muana Ya Amerique back in March. He's a solid rhymer with a conscious who's elevating the profile of his native Congo and garnering mad fans in the process. Typically OKA asks 5 questions during our African Minute sessions, but we're such big fans of Million's that we couldn't resist edging in a 6th.

1. Hugo Million formerly known as Tresor Hugo, why the name change?

The name change was to separate my new music from past music. It was a "re-branding", if you will. The previous brand (Tresor Hugo) was American music from an American perspective. Also, I wanted to relate more to a growing market, that being the music scene in Africa. But I truly believe the next "BIG THING" will come from Africa or Europe. Its a huge market that hasn’t reached its full potential yet.

2. Your new album is titled Muana Ya Amerique. What was the idea behind the title and inspiration behind the project?

Yeah, translated, the album means "Child of America." This is what you are called by your relatives when you didn’t grow up like they did. It's almost like you are a "second-class" African because you grew up in America. Growing up African in America is a huge part of my journey and something I wanted to touch on creatively. Also, I know tons of people who can relate. I touch on how I never really fit in because Africa is sooo diverse. For example, at school, in lunch, you have the Latino table, White, Blacks, and Jamaicans even…but no "African" table. So you were around people who didn’t necessarily look, or live like you. So you never really fit in. Even if you did find another African friend, there were sometimes tensions there. So, yeah, I touch on theses things in the album.

3. You infuse a lot of Lingala into your music, why is this?

Because honestly, I want Congo to be known. Also, I wanted to pique enough interest from those who speak english to keep listening. And pique enough interest from Africans to see how we can push the creative limits and cross markets. I also speak like that too. My mind goes back and forth between Lingala and English… interweaving in a beautiful artistic tapestry of language…for those who can appreciate it. I can't forget, another reason is that it hasn’t been done before.

4. It seems like you are pretty popular back home in Congo, your thoughts?

Hahaha… It was suprising to be welcomed off the plane by military guards with AK47s, escorting me to my vehicle to protect me from the several hundred fans at the airport. And once we got in the vehicle, the fans followed us for almost an hour… we had to lose them. At the concerts, the fans knew ALL the lyrics, even the english ones. I was shocked. I barely even performed, they performed most of the lyrics themselves, hahaha. I was shocked to say the least, I didn’t think I was "that" popular.

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*fans sing along to Million's songs during his Kinshasa tour in the video above

5. This is a two-parter: (A) The song "Benga Nzambe" has a socially conscious message (video at the top), why is it important to you to advocate for change in the Congo through your music? (B) How do you make a party jam w/ a political message?

This is important because there is only one Congo, like there is only one America. I understand we live in a world of constant change, but some things have to be made known. Really, I just wanted people to know what is/was going on in Congo, and believe it or not, many don’t know. Plus, I didn’t want the Congolese people to think that I was just coming to get their money and fly back to my place of refuge. I know, with this gift God gave me, I have a responsibility. My responsibility is my reason. We all have a responsibility to something, right? As for creating a party jam with a political message, you just have to look at comedy for example. Good comedy is social awareness packaged as something to laugh about. You cant just bombard people with sad, serious-toned information, most will reject it. You have to put the "medicine in the candy".

6.What contemporary African musicians would you love to collaborate with next, and why?

There is way too many to name!! But for conversation sake: 2Face, Nneka, K'Naan, Baloji, Fally Ipupa, Tabi Bonney and of course the late Fela Kuti (if he was still here) just to name a few… theres definitely more though.

Be sure to check out OKA's African Minute with Nigerian songstress Zara Gretti and dope South African fashion designer Gareth Cowden.

Photo by Don Paulsen/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Hugh Masekela's New York City Legacy

A look back at the South African legend's time in New York City and his enduring presence in the Big Apple.

In Questlove's magnificent documentary, Summer of Soul, he captures a forgotten part of Black American music history. But in telling the tale of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, the longtime musician and first-time filmmaker also captures a part of lost South African music history too.

Among the line-up of blossoming all-stars who played the Harlem festival, from a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder to a transcendent Mavis Staples, was a young Hugh Masekela. 30 years old at the time, he was riding the wave of success that came from releasing Grazing in the Grass the year before. To watch Masekela in that moment on that stage is to see him at the height of his time in New York City — a firecracker musician who entertained his audiences as much as he educated them about the political situation in his home country of South Africa.

The legacy Masekela sowed in New York City during the 1960s remains in the walls of the venues where he played, and in the dust of those that are no longer standing. It's in the records he made in studios and jazz clubs, and on the Manhattan streets where he once posed with a giant stuffed zebra for an album cover. It's a legacy that still lives on in tangible form, too, in the Hugh Masekela Heritage Scholarship at the Manhattan School of Music.

The school is the place where Masekela received his education and met some of the people that would go on to be life-long bandmates and friends, from Larry Willis (who, as the story goes, Masekela convinced to give up opera for piano) to Morris Goldberg, Herbie Hancock and Stewart Levine, "his brother and musical compadre," as Mabusha Masekela, Bra Hugh's nephew says.

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