Ramapolo Hugh Masekela
4 April, 1939 – 23 January, 2018
(Johannesburg, South Africa, 25 January 2018) It with profound gratitude that the family of Hugh Masekela and the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation acknowledge the outpouring of condolences and tributes paid to the late artist and activist from members of the public and the media – your loving words, the sweetness of your messages, the heartfelt posts on social media, commemorative front-page stories and countless radio and TV tributes, are all received with the utmost appreciation.
The support and encouragement we have received from Bra Hugh’s larger community across the continent, worldwide, and the Local, Provincial and National Departments of Arts & Culture, have been equally heartening, and have strengthened us in this difficult time.
The week ahead represents a time for all of us to say our final goodbyes to Bra Hugh – as such, there are events planned where media and members of the public are invited to commune, share memories, and bid farewell to this incredible artist, composer, activist and exemplar of Pan-African excellence.
The three public events will roll out as follows:
Hugh Masekela Heritage Park
The Hugh Masekela Heritage Park is an audiovisual celebration of Hugh Masekela’s life, chronicling his six-decade tenure as an artist and social, political and cultural activist. A temporary visitors centre of sorts, the Heritage Park will feature visuals, footage and audio that reflect Masekela’s rich and inspiring life journey.
Venue: Zoo Lake, Parkview – Johannesburg
Date: Friday, 26 January – Thursday 1 February, 2018
Time: 10h00 – 18h00 daily.
Heitada Alex! – Going Home
A commemoration of Hugh Masekela’s life, hosted in Alexandra township, the home where he began his incredible journey in music. Friends, the artistic community and family will share their memories of this musical titan.
Venue: Sankopano Community Centre, Corner 12th Ave & Selborne St – Alexandra, Johannesburg
Date: Friday, 26 January 2018
Hugh Masekela Musical Memorial
The final public tribute to Masekela, the event is a musical celebration of this legends life, featuring a range of artists he collaborated with, influenced and loved.
Venue: University of Johannesburg – Soweto Campus, Chris Hani Rd, Soweto.
Date: Sunday, 28 January 2018
**The funeral service will be held as a farewell for family, relatives and close friends **
Twitter, Instagram & Facebook – @Hugh Masekela
Released on behalf of the Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation by Dreamcatcher
Marang Setshwaelo – 011 447 5655 / 082 559 1802
Sbu Mpungose 011 447 5655 / 072 522 9675
Tributes paid to South African musician and activist Hugh Masekela
1987: Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Paul Simon
Photograph by Phil Dent/Redferns
South Africans have paid tribute to Hugh Masekela, the legendary jazz musician and activist, who died on Tuesday aged 78.
The South African president, Jacob Zuma, said the nation would mourn a man who “kept the torch of freedom alive”. The arts and culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa, described Masekela as “one of the great architects of Afro-Jazz”. “A baobab tree has fallen,” Mthethwa wrote on Twitter.
A statement from the trumpeter’s family said Masekela “passed peacefully” in Johannesburg, where he lived and worked for much of his life, on Tuesday morning.
“A loving father, brother, grandfather and friend, our hearts beat with a profound loss. Hugh’s global and activist contribution to and participation in the areas of music, theatre and the arts in general is contained in the minds and memories of millions across six continents,” the statement read.
Relatives described Masekela’s “ebullient and joyous life”.
Masekela had been suffering from prostate cancer for almost a decade. He last performed in Johannesburg in 2010 when he gave two concerts that were seen as an “epitaph” to his long career and played at the opening ceremony of the football World Cup. Masekela toured internationally until 2016.
South African social media was flooded with tributes to “brother Hugh”, whose career and work was closely intertwined with the troubled politics of his homeland.
The singer Johnny Clegg described Masekela as “immensely bright and articulate … an outstanding musical pioneer and a robust debater, always holding to his South African roots.”
Masekela was born in Witbank, a mining town in eastern South Africa, and was given his first trumpet by the anti-apartheid activist archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who formed a pioneering jazz band in Soweto in the 1950s that became a launchpad for many of South Africa’s most famous jazz musicians.
Masekela went on to study in the UK and the US, where he had significant success.
As well as forming close friendships with jazz legends such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, Masekela performed alongside Janis Joplin, Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s.
He returned to Africa where he played with icons such as Nigeria’s Fela Kuti, and in 1974 he helped organise a three-day festival before the “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing clash in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of the Congo) between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman.
In 1976, the man who became known as the father of South African jazz composed Soweto Blues in response to the uprising in the vast township. He toured with Paul Simon in the 1980s while continuing his political engagement, writing Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela) in 1987. The song became an anthem of the anti-apartheid struggle.
James Hall, a writer and broadcaster who spent time with Masekela in the 1990s, said he “could have prickly personality” at times “due to the tension and frustration of being away from his own country for so long”.
Masekela was briefly married to Miriam Makeba in the 1960s and remained on good terms with the South African singer after their divorce. “They had a wonderful friendship and were very, very close,” said Hall, who co-wrote Makeba’s autobiography.
Masekela refused to take citizenship anywhere outside South Africa “despite the open arms of many countries”, said his son, Selema Mabena Masekela, on Tuesday.
“My father’s life was the definition of activism and resistance. His belief [was] that the pure evil of a systematic racist oppression could and would be crushed. Instead he would continue to fight.”
After more than 30 years in exile, Masekela returned to South Africa in the early 90s after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the end of apartheid.
Masekela had many fans overseas. “Hugh Masekela was a titan of jazz and of the anti-apartheid struggle. His courage, words and music inspired me … and strengthened the resolve of those fighting for justice in South Africa,” said Jeremy Corbyn on Twitter.
Hugh Masekela: ‘A disarming smile, sharp wit, and music that seemed sculpted from gold’
Fellow musicians remember instrument shopping, eating Chinese food and – even – getting on the wrong side of the legendary trumpet player
Soweto Kinch, saxophonist
Hugh Masekela was that rare combination of musicianship and integrity: he created music that perfectly encapsulates a period in time, a movement for freedom and the spirit and hopes of a people. But, however much his music bristles with protest, in person he was always so calm and collected, and although his stately manner let you know you were in the presence of greatness, he was always approachable.
He had a disarming smile and a sharp wit, and often wisecracked about the irony of me, a “London boy”, being called Soweto, but I have no doubt that he valued the name my parents had given me, and understood his own role in bringing the story of the Soweto Uprising to international attention.
He achieved the holy grail of being technically accomplished but also the creator of a wholly original style of trumpet phrasing. His way of repeating rhythmical motifs, his driving sense of beat and his unique tone were infused with distinctive African qualities, making music that was instantly recognisable as his own. On stage, he was completely grounded – he never over-played, or needed prove anything. We travelled to Paris, Budapest and London for 2006’s Jazz Odyssey tour, and, night after night, with an economy of both movements and notes, he’d produce music that seemed sculpted from gold. Just hearing a few notes I could imagine what the shebeens of 1950s Sophiatown might have felt like. He’s birthed generations of artists in South Africa and beyond, determined to fuse jazz and other genres with a very personal experience and culture.
I learnt from Masekela’s music and his words, but also from how he chose to live his life. Examples of his principled stance on things were born out by his life choices. He never returned to live in an ethically compromised “New South Africa” as the reality of inequality and economical hardship had strayed so far from the ideals. He always made time for fans – staying behind after shows to meet them, many of whom, like him, had been in long exile from Apartheid South Africa. And, like the greatest bandleaders, his spirit, generosity and warmth infused all the musicians in his band. I’ve rarely played with a group who were so keen to swap stories, share music and encourage each other. I always left our musical encounters feeling emboldened to follow my own direction.
Hugh Masekela, Yazz Ahmed and Leigh McKinney
Photograph by Yasmeen Ahmed
Yazz Ahmed, trumpeter
In 2015 I was invited to play at a private party where, unbeknown to me, Hugh Masekela was the guest of honour. I performed a version of Scarborough Fair from the balcony overlooking the guests, and, afterwards, Hugh made his way up the stairs to introduce himself. He was charmingly complimentary about my sound, and very curious about my flugelhorn, and asked if he could try it. He brought the room to a hushed silence as he started to play.Naturally I knew Masekela as one of the great trumpet players of the jazz world but, perhaps because I had just turned seven and was still living in Bahrain when Nelson Mandela was released, I didn’t know about his importance as a protester and campaigner. But I began to understand what a great man he was later that same evening, as he spoke about his life, his struggle and his music. I was inspired by his passion and particularly struck by the choice he made to play music that was personal to him and his South African heritage.
Masekela had been so impressed by the few notes he played on my horn that he decided he wanted to buy one for himself, and later that month we went together to the Eclipse Trumpet factory in Luton to chose him a flugelhorn. It was lovely spending time with him, playing to each other and getting geeky about all things trumpet. He even signed the wall in the factory, a tradition started by the master instrument maker Leigh Mckinney, who delivered Hugh’s newly made flugelhorn to him at the Love Supreme Festival just a few days later.
Later that year I got to see him performing at the Barbican where he sang and played his heart out, telling more stories about his incredible life. He filled the hall with his joyful sound, accompanied only by a pianist, and held the audience in the palm of his hand.
Jason Yarde, composer, arranger, saxophonist
The world has lost one of its greatest musical communicators, human rights activists, and biggest smiles. Everywhere I went in London on Tuesday I seemed to hear Hugh’s music. Dare I say the only positive side-effect in the passing of the greats is that the airwaves generally improve for a period of time as we remember the extraordinary music left behind?
I first worked with Hugh Masekela back in 1995 as a member of a group called the London Afro Bloc. We were essentially the backing band for both him and another musical giant, Manu Dibango, who were performing as part of Africa Expo. I’ll never forget the “WTF?” look on Hugh’s face when we met for our first and only rehearsal on the day of the performance and the true stripped-down, no-harmony-instrument-in-sight nature of our lineup was revealed. He was clearly expecting something else and let his concerns be known in no uncertain terms. Mr Dibango smoothed things out and everything went ahead fine, but I was left with the impression that Mr Masekela was certainly not someone you’d want to upset.
Some years later I was asked to arrange some music for a concert that would feature Gary Crosby’s Big Band Jazz Jamaica Allstars and a choir alongside Masekela’s voice and horn. I reminded him that we had worked together nine years before. He remembered the occasion, if not me. “I was a different person then” he said. He’d clearly been through some transitions and dark times but had come through the other side – with the help of Tai Chi and family, he told me.
We spent many days together, working on arrangements, rehearsing singers, he ordered us Chinese food (there was no time to cook), and we travelled across East London visiting schools. On every occasion, his commitment to the song, to inspiring the kids, and to instilling in everyone the importance of doing a great job was unwavering.
The next time we worked together the ante was upped once more. When invited to perform his first full orchestral concert with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican one of the conditions he set out was that I would be responsible for all the musical arrangements. Added to this the orchestra commissioned me to write a Flugelhorn concerto for Masekela to play with the orchestra. For me, he is one of a handful of trumpet players who ‘owns’ the sound of the Flugel in the same way Miles Davis ‘owned’ the sound of the Harmon muted Trumpet. My concerto, All Souls Seek Joy, was premiered in 2007 and was partly shaped by my response to spending time in South Africa and being overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the place.
That same programme featured also Stimela, Masakela’s anthem telling the story of the train taking migrant workers to the deep, dirty work in the mines. You can hear years of struggle alongside immense hope and joy in his voice. No matter how many times I heard his impression of train whistle it always went straight to my heart.
Masekela managed to cram such a multitude of lives into his 78 years. He was the man child who discovered the trumpet just at the right time and chose that over certain trouble. He was endorsed by jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. And then the politics – how could any musician in South Africa, especially a black one growing up with Apartheid, not be a political figure? Of course he pushed against this terrible agenda over many years in exile. And then there is the romance – he and Miriam Makeba were the original black music power couple way before the Jay-Z/Beyonce era.
It’s traditional to say rest in peace on these occasions and Bra Hugh truly deserves the rest, but I dare say if he’s able this unquenchable spirit will at least on occasion do his stage shuffle and blow his horn.
More from The Guardian:
The International Committee of AFRIMA (All Africa Music Awards) celebrates the life of an African music icon and activist, Hugh Masekela as he passed on peacefully at his country home, Johannesburg, South Africa after a protracted battle with prostate cancer on January 23, 2018 at the aged 78.
Masekela was nominated for three nominations at the 2017 AFRIMA Awards in the categories of ‘Best Male Artiste in Southern Africa’ for his recent single ‘Shango’, ‘Album of the Year’ for his recent album ‘No Borders’ and for the ‘Best Artiste in African Jazz’. These three nominations show that the legend waxed strong till his last breadth. Masekela was scheduled to be at the host city, Lagos, Nigeria, for the 2017 AFRIMA Awards in November but was unable to make it due to his ill health in spite all his efforts.
The President and Executive Producer, AFRIMA, Mike Dada, stated that “it is a huge loss for the continent and African music. Masekela’s music had the depth, the lyricism and the instrumentation that place the legend in the class of world music classics with a definitive signature of its African sound. The music icon will be greatly missed but his music and struggle for free and prosperous Africa will always be in our hearts and minds.”
Masekela gained global recognition with his distinctive Afro-Jazz sound and hit song-Soweto Blues. He creates music from his Africa’s experiences andis known for excellent use of trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone and cornet instruments.
Born in April 4, 1939 and ventured into music as a child when the anti-apartheid chaplain, Archbishop Trevor Huddleston gave him a trumpet as a gift. He found escape from the racial chaos in South Africa in his days with music. He later joined the Johannesburg Native Municipal Bras Band, Uncle Suada.In later years, Masekela studied the art of music in London’s Guildhall School of Music and the Manhattan School of Music, New York.
The legend had released 49 Albums from the 1966 to 2016 and featured legends like Paul Simon, Lady Smith Mambazo, Mariam Makeba and others. He was nominated for the Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Pop Performance – Instrumental in 1968 for his single ‘Grazing in the Grass’, an anti-apartheid piece which sold 4 million copies among other nominations.
AFRIMA will pay tribute to Hugh Masekela in a glorifying spectacle at its fifth edition scheduled to hold in November 2018.
Hugh Masekela Honoured by Wits University
Music icon Hugh Masekela tells graduands to “go out there and kick some booty’.
Wits University today conferred on honorary Doctor of Music degree on Bra Hugh Masekela in the Great Hall, the same stage where he performed as a 19-year-old member of the orchestra in the opening concert of Todd Matshikiza’s landmark jazz opera King Kong.
“I am deeply honoured and honesty humbled,” Masekela said in his acceptance speech.
He implored graduands to become the “new pioneers of African heritage restoration at a time when we seem to be leaning on the brink of being wholly swallowed by most Western culture and several Middle Eastern and Eastern civilizations to the exclusion of our own traditions”.
Masekela says there are innumerable alarming reasons that African society needs to heed for the revival of African heritage restoration, such as the gradual demise of the mother tongue in almost all African countries. “A decade or two from now, African society will be the first in human history to have abandoned its native tongues in preference to those manipulated by colonial rule if we do not soon reinstitute our own languages back into our homes, schools and social interaction with each other.”
He told graduands to learn and teach “our own history” instead of the European education that still consumes us – something that has left us convinced that our heritage is “backward, savage, pagan, primitive, barbaric and uncivilized”.
“We have long relegated our magnificent vernacular literature to the dust and insect-infested floors of crumbling old warehouses in favour of imported writings, hip hop, rap and other forms of trending fashions that distance us as far as possible from our rich traditional legacy.
“We need to study, learn, and teach our traditional music, dance, oral literature and more in our own academies and future educational institutions where we can revive and redevelop what has been lost from the positive content of our glorious history without abandoning the best of what the West has brought to our otherwise void-encrusted lives,” he said.
Masekela also called for a return to the trader society, the great manufacturing civilization Africa once was, and to “cease being consumer fodder”.
“The time is now for Africans to rediscover and regenerate the existing wealth of their artisanship and original design talents and skills so that we can begin to manufacture furniture, linens, cutlery, crockery, bedding, clothing, interior décor materials and fabrics and other household goods for retail and export not exclusive of traditional architecture and construction to replace the frenzied purchase of commodities from other lands.”
“Go out there and kick some booty,” he said resulting in a thundering applause from graduands.
The University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) has conferred honorary doctorates on African Music Legend, Hugh Masekela, and international environmental activist, Dr Kumi Naidoo.
Masekela has been awarded a Doctor of Music Degree for his outstanding contribution to the music industry, while Dr Kumi Naidoo was recognised for his outstanding contribution to the South African struggle for democracy, the international fight against climate change and the struggle against poverty and injustice.
Dr Naidoo is the launch director of the Pan African social movement, Africans Rising for Justice, Peace and Dignity.
Masekela was honoured during a graduation ceremony of the College of Humanities. He is a popular African music legend whose campaign through music has contributed to the fight for a free South Africa.
Masekela is a world-renowned musician and a political struggle icon. He has mentored a generation of producers and musicians who have contributed to the teaching and practical knowledge of jazz and popular music in South Africa and globally.
He says mother tongue-languages should be prioritised.
“As you open a new door to the rest of your lives, I request you to consider a number of issues that pertain to restoring excellence of African heritage back into our lives without abandoning the best elements of what we inherited from the western world. Volumes of African language, history and literature books lay covered with dust and ticks in basements and warehouses all over the continent and parts of Europe,” says Masekela.
When asked about the political situation in the country and the recent #FeesMustFall campaigns at tertiary institutions, Masekela says a number of things need more attention in the country.
“Many things must fall in South Africa not just fees, many things because I think that we have to recapture what was fought for and what many people died for in this country.”
Meanwhile, Dr Kumi Naidoo who has been recognised for his contribution to the South African struggle for democracy has condemned violence.
Naidoo says people in rural areas are still lagging behind in terms of service delivery which leads to community protests.
Naidoo, who was also active in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa during his student years, has called on young activists to speak up.
Naidoo and Masakela say they are humbled at being recognised by academia for their contribution to South Africa’s struggle for freedom.
21 January 2017
I ask Bra Hugh if he’s on Twitter. He replies: “No, but I’m on Whatsapp.” I’m defeated.
He notices my disappointment and we burst out in laughter.
He may not be as tech-savvy and on top of social media trends as I would like him to be, and at 77 it’s kind of understandable. But Hugh Masekela is not shy to express himself.
We begin our quick chat in the comfort of his offices in chic Parkhurst, Johannesburg north. He’s just got back from Ghana where he performed at the inauguration of the new president Nana Akufo-Addo.
“He’s an old friend that I met through Fela [Kuti] in the 70s, because he was Fela’s lawyer. And I’ve watched him for 40 years aspire for this office because his passion for Ghana is so deep, and it’s a pleasure to finally see him get it.
“He lost twice in the last 10 years, the last time he lost by 20000 votes, but now he won by a million and half votes. Sometimes patience helps.”
Masekela is one of the greatest living musicians of our time, and he continues to release music. His newest is No Borders. He makes no apologies for being a proponent of Africa without borders.
“The music speaks for itself. You can feel geographically where we are most of the time. I’m very obsessed with cancelling the borders in people’s minds and let them get a sense of who they are.
“The Hugh Masekela Heritage Foundation does work in the historical space. Our people don’t know anything about themselves.
“Cancelling borders in our heads and nationalism will help us to get rid of xenophobia, especially if we knew our history because most of us re makwerekwere (we are foreigners) historically. I tell people when I’m on stage that us, the Masekelas taught the Batlokwa how to till the land, but originally we are the Munyepawu and come from Zimbabwe.
“Even in our praise singing it’s there.”
The album is an eclectic mix of sounds and influences, a nomadic journey from Cape to Cairo, Dakar to Addis.
He recorded Been Such A Long Time Gone first some 40 years ago on the album I’m Not Afraid, which had the original Stimela and The Marketplace.
“It’s like a trip from the desert right down. At the end it says right across the river Limpopo white soldiers standing in the road, then pop goes my dream, but I didn’t put that in because that was an apartheid reference.”
Congo Woman, is a delightful tribute to the DRC, the land of a thousand dances. In it he celebrates the dances – kwassa kwassa, rumba and others.
“I was inspired by Papa Wemba. There is a great album of his called Bakala Di A Kuba. In it he has this song where he sings with four other Congolese and they exchange parts, so I called my nephew and Kabomo and Tresor to put in the Congolese feel.”
Other feature are JSomething on Heaven In You, Oliver Mtukudzi on Tapera and Themba Mokoena on The Rooster and KwaZulu. It is produced by Kunle Ayo
Perhaps his most important recording is In An Age with his son Selema, known as Alekesam in Hollywood.
“He’s been a musician since he was a kid. When he started school he played the clarinet, the saxophone and has always been able to sing. He got together with Sunny Levin, who is my best friend’s son and they formed a group and Sunny wrote the song and they asked me to rap on it and put something in an African language, so I chose a Tswana verse.
“I’d like this album to have an impact on whoever is listening to it, a curiosity about Africa, and African history and the whole borders situation. It should awaken interest about our origins. And I hope they enjoy the music.”
In three months Masekela turns 78.
“I feel very fortunate. I was bewitched with music when I was a child and I ended up living in it. I never planned to get where I am today. I just went into it for the passion. And it brought me halfway around the world a few times.
He is thankful to have met some of the greatest people in the world thanks to his music.
“I was helped by a lot of people, especially Miriam, Father Huddleston, and Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. I was able to go to exile for 30 years and still come back home to see the change and the freedom of our people.
“I think we are in a disappointing era in our lives. What we hoped for for our freedom is not really taking place. I really hope everyone had the chances and opportunities that you and I have, at least to live a half a decent life. The truth is that the majority of our people are poor.”
2 November 2016
World renowned trumpet and flugelhorn legend, Hugh Masekela returns with a fiery 44th album entitled ‘No Borders’.
Encompassing socio-political commentary, solid dance floor grooves and tender love songs, the 16 tracks move effortlessly through continental styles taking in Nigerian Afro-Beat, Congolese Kwassa Kwassa and South African Masqandi. From the opening angry salvo of “Shuffle and Bow” which evokes the American South and old plantation songs, to the haunting collaboration with Oliver Mtukudzi, “Tapera”, Bra Hugh shows that he’s lost none of his fire.
Recorded over a period of 9 months with producer Kunle Ayo, No Borders is a vibrant, bold and entertaining journey across various musical genres, featuring extraordinary collaborations. On the track “In an Age” Bra Hugh teams up for the first time with his US based son, Salema Masekela (AKA Alekesam), and the combination is thrilling. This song is also notable for Bra Hugh’s wild Zulu rap and was recorded in Los Angeles under the production guidance of Sunny Levine who also produced “One of These Days”. In another family connection, Sunny is the son of renowned producer, and Hugh’s long time friend and collaborator, Stewart Levine.
No Borders also includes the popular feel good summer single “Heaven in You” featuring J Something of Mi Casa and other tracks feature notable guests such as legendary South African guitarist, Themba Mokoena and Congolese singer, Tresor.
The album cover art shows a defiant Masekela showing off a pre-colonial map of Africa where no borders are represented, a state of affairs that is close to Bra Hugh’s heart. It is this theme that fuels the album’s pan-African feel, sound and vision.
At the age of 77 Bra Hugh is still blowing strong. No Borders looks set to return Bra Hugh to the top of the international charts.
By Jonathan Mbiriyamveka
Photograph by the Goodlife Family
Oliver “Tuku” Mtukudzi was full of praise for South African counterpart and music legend Hugh “Bra Hugh” Masekela, saying the trumpeter was proud of his African identity.
In his inaugural lecture held on Tuesday at the University of Johannesburg during the Annual Hugh Masekela Lecture, the Zimbabwean music icon hailed Bra Hugh for staying true to his African roots.
The prepared lecture was availed to The Herald Entertainment yesterday.
“As I was preparing this lecture, looking at Hugh’s life – the challenges, the failures and the successes – I realised something.
“At this time in history, when we as Africans are being challenged in so many ways as we try to strike a balance between taking up more and more of Western culture versus holding on to the things that give us our identity; our languages, our values, our music, our dances, our way of dealing with conflict, our sisterhood and our brotherhood; we need people who can remind us what it is to struggle, to fight, and to win in the end – and do so without giving up our identity as Africans,” Mtukudzi said.
Delivering a paper titled “How do you measure the impact of a man?” Mtukudzi or simply Tuku to his fans, said Bra Hugh’s worth could not be measured according to accolades, fame or fortune but his humanity.
“Each time I meet Hugh, his music, his status as a legend and his accolades, have grown. But he as a person, his humanity, what we call in Shona “unhu” or as you would say here “ubuntu bakhe” – remains the same.
“If you approach him as a celebrity, yes you get the celebrity, the man who is trying to deal with a fan – but I have seen over and over again the magic that happens when people approach him as another human being.
“He responds to them like a father, like a brother; with humility, with warmth – except if you’re wearing a weave. As we all know Bra Hugh does not like weaves,” he jokingly said.
Tuku, however, said that it was important to ask “what has my real contribution been?” and “how will my life be measured?” for people to measure the impact of a man or woman.
“You measure someone not by how much they have done, or how many awards they have received, or how many degrees they have.
“Instead, you measure people by what they overcame to achieve those things, because that tells you the story of their strength of character. Or to put it differently, whether they are of sterner stuff or not.
“At a time when we see so much moral bankruptcy, where our continent cries out for answers and solutions, we need more than ever before men and women of character.
“As we fight to hold on to our heritage and to our continental dreams and the key ingredients that unite and identify us as Africans, we need men and women of character,” Tuku said.
Tuku first met Hugh Masekela in 1983 in Bulawayo.
By that time, Tuku was already a professional musician. Tuku had been following Bra Hugh’s work as well as respected his talent.
The two would exchange notes and then moved on with their lives.
It was only three years later that Tuku began to grasp some key aspects of Bra Hugh’s character.
“I was performing at a club called Job’s Night Spot in Harare. Bra Hugh was in the audience, and from nowhere he jumped up on stage and joined me and my band.
His energy, his laughter, his aura, his naughty smile were all so infectious.
“Our friendship has developed very steadily over the years and we have become serious fans of each other’s work.
We have performed on stage together many times and just last month in August stepped into the studio together for the first time – a dream come true for me.”
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I’m Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. It’s summer, and for a lot of people that means music. It’s a time when many people take advantage of the many festivals going on around the country to discover new artists or reconnect with old favorites. And in that spirit, we thought we’d bring you an encore of our conversation with Hugh Masekela. He’s one of Africa’s best-known musicians. He is an international star with a career that’s spanned decades. His 1968 breakout hit, “Grazing In The Grass,” was number one on the American pop charts and a worldwide hit.
(SOUNDBITE OF HUGH MASEKELA SONG, “GRAZING IN THE GRASS”)
MARTIN: Masekela’s impact is really hard to describe in few words. He’s released some 40 albums – appeared on too many to count. He’s appeared with artists as wide-ranging as Herb Alpert, The Birds, Paul Simon, Fela Kuti and the late, great Miriam Makeba, to whom he was once married. Now in his 70s, Masekela is still touring, which is how we caught up with him last spring when he stopped by our studios in Washington, D.C. And I started by asking him how he fell in love with music.
HUGH MASEKELA: I got possessed by music as an infant. So by the time I started playing the trumpet, I was already a bona fide musician. And I was playing classical music as well as other things. And then, I had a beautiful high tenor voice, you know, like those British boys in the cathedral. (Singing) Ahhhh. Yeah.
MARTIN: I see.
MASEKELA: Yes. I asked for that from my chaplain at school. I was always in trouble with the authorities because my attention span was completely off because all I heard was music. So when I looked at the teachers, their mouths were just moving. And I was singing all the – Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell and, you know, all the new bebop players that just emerged. And we were mesmerized by them. And so, like, that’s what I was hearing. And whenever my name was called, I ended up at the principal’s office because I didn’t know the question. And so…
MARTIN: But also, you just had trouble – you just had trouble with authority, period. I mean – right? That’s fair to say? You just…
MASEKELA: Not really. Not really. I was a good boy, you know. My mother thought, oh, what a good boy.
MARTIN: (Laughing) Well, it came…
MASEKELA: (Laughing) I mean as a kid I was punished. I was whipped at least – on a slow day, at least three times.
MASEKELA: The preacher said, what do you want to do with your life? I said, if I can get a trumpet, Father, I won’t bother anybody anymore. So he got me a trumpet and a trumpet teacher.
MARTIN: It came to pass that you, first – I think you went to London first. And then you came to New York.
MARTIN: And you were there at such an amazing time. I mean, people like Dizzy Gillespie took you under their wing, right?
MASEKELA: Know what? I was lucky because I was brought to the stage by Miriam Makeba, who was an ex-girlfriend of mine and a dear friend. And we’d always dreamt of coming to the States, but she came a year earlier and blew the States away. She was on first-name basis with everybody. Then she and Harry Belafonte gave me a scholarship to Manhattan School of Music. I also had to work part-time in Harry Belafonte’s music publishing because (imitating Harry Belafonte) they ain’t going to give you no money. You got to work for – you know, you got to work for your money.
MASEKELA: And we’re paying your school fees. We’re going to get you a cheap place to stay. And you got to work, man, you know. And all these people were their friends.
MARTIN: I was going to ask if you can describe what those years were like for you. I mean on the one hand, you must’ve been terribly homesick
MASEKELA: The first time I dreamt in English, I realized, you know, that I might never go home because by then, Miriam Makeba and Harry Belafonte were already banned, you know, and they were sending me to school. I think that the things that were most difficult for me were the cold.
MARTIN: The cold?
MASEKELA: Yeah. The snow and then, I mean that really made me homesick. I remember that my first snow, I wrote to my mother right away. And I took a picture in the snow. And I said, I’m not smiling. I’m grimacing from the cold. It is really cold here.
MARTIN: Were you sad during that time? Was it hard, or was it so exciting? It’s so exciting.
MASEKELA: No, I wasn’t sad because it was a great time for me. I mean, I was exposed to, like, the greatest music. It was the greatest time in music in the States, I think, you know, the 1960s. And I was really fascinated by what I was doing. I felt like I’d come to the right place at the right time. But, you know, when you’re a student and you’re in a foreign country, you miss your relatives most. You know, especially when I was hungry, I was like, damn, Saturday afternoon. I just could’ve just gone to my aunt’s place and, like, she makes the tribe stew, you know, with the hominy grits. And I’m talking to myself, you know. So one day, I was talking to myself in the park, on a Sunday afternoon. And I had a tap on my shoulder. And this cop said, (imitating police officer) excuse me, buddy, you know, see those folks over there? I say, yeah. They say they say they’ve been looking at you for two hours; you’ve been talking to yourself.
MASEKELA: (Imitating police officer) Are you OK? Then I explained to him what I was going through. He went, oh, yeah, OK. Now I know what that must feel like. And he knew everything about South Africa. Ah, those bastards.
MARTIN: He knew all about South Africa?
MASEKELA: And then we became friends for many years.
MASEKELA: Because he was a young policeman. I mean I was much younger. That’s how homesick you can be. But I was surrounded by so much beauty, and so much generosity and so much joy. And it was a new world. It was the world that I wanted to live in when I heard records when I was a small kid. I thought that people lived in the Gramophone, you know, in the Victrola. And I wanted to get in there and go and come and live with them.
MASEKELA: And now here I was living with them. I mean, it was – couldn’t ask for anything more.
MARTIN: If you’re just joining us, I’m speaking with musical giant Hugh Masekela. You know, people these days often think of artists as either, you know, popular or as political. But when you came up, there was not a difference between the two. People were very interested in politics who were also very popular. And one of your – your song “Bring Him Back Home,” about Nelson Mandela – it became an anti-apartheid anthem in the late 1980s. And I just want to play a little bit.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “BRING HIM BACK HOME”)
UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS: (Singing) Bring back Nelson Mandela. Bring him back home to Soweto. I want to see him walking down the streets of South Africa one, one, once more.
MASEKELA: I don’t know in other countries, but, like, when I grew up, you were not political. You were bombarded by politics. So, like, we grew up in protests, rallies and boycott marches. And from time to time, there’d be shootings. And you’d watch people getting killed. And we’re not naive. And we’re not like, wow, there’s a thing called politics.
MASEKELA: We’re under its boot. And we wanted to get out of there. And that’s how we grew up. Mandela was the symbol. He was the voice of all those people. They were a whole gang of them – like, Oliver Tambo and Walter Sisulu and, like, all those people who came and brought us the direction to get out of our chains.
MARTIN: Yeah. Speaking of…
MASEKELA: They did their job. And they’re a hard act to follow. The greatest things is that they did for us was they said, like, never again will one group of people get to dominate another, you know. And we must try and forgive those who oppressed us and, like, build our country with them and teach them the gift of love and forgiveness.
MARTIN: Well, speaking though, of being free from chains, one of the things that was – I don’t know why I didn’t know this. I read this in your book, how just deeply involved you were with every drug there was. I mean alcohol, cocaine – you were really explicit. Well, how are you now, by the way – all good? You’re good?
MASEKELA: Well, what you see is what you get.
MARTIN: I hear you. Why…
MASEKELA: I mean how do I look for a 74-year-old guy?
MARTIN: You look great. Oh, you look, you look pretty great.
MARTIN: You know, controversial now, giving compliments about people’s appearance, you may have heard.
MASEKELA: How sexist can you be?
MARTIN: I know. I’m sorry – apologize.
MARTIN: But you opened the door, so – do you have any thoughts about why? Was that just the way it was at the time?
MASEKELA: When I grew up, liquor was illegal for African people in South Africa. It only was legalized – I was here a year when it was legalized in South Africa.
MASEKELA: And there were speakeasies all over. I mean, every fifth house in the townships of the rural areas was a speakeasy. And my grandmother – a speakeasy – and they were called shebeens. And I was born in my grandmother’s shebeen. And drunkenness, to a great extent, was a form of defiance, you know. And there were people who were famous for being great drinkers. There were people, when they entered the room, people would take off their hats – said, this man can drink. There was that prestige. I started drinking when I was 13 years old. But I started drinking out of, like, peer pressure because I had the most beautiful voice. And they were beginning to look at girls. And my friends said, man, we can’t hang out with you anymore ’cause we’re beginning to look at the babes, and here you are, singing in their range, you know. It puts a little damper on us, you know, so we – so finally I said, what should I do? They said, well, you have to drink and smoke so, like, your voice can get messed up. And then you can sing bass.
MASEKELA: And I worked on that. And I – a year later, I was singing bass. My voice was destroyed. And the girls were not impressed. But…
MARTIN: How old were you when you finally got sober? How old were you? I forget now. You were…
MASEKELA: Yeah. I didn’t get sober. I stopped killing myself. There’s a difference. You know, like, I think that you shouldn’t stop enjoying life. But you just have to stop beating yourself up and other people and hanging out with people who are beating themselves up.
MARTIN: What has kept your music so fresh and exciting? What has kept you so – continuing to work?
MASEKELA: Well, first of all, if music was the devil, I would need an exorcist. That’s how, you know, obsessed and possessed I am with it. And I’ve always been like that. And I think, like, when you’re not tunnel-visioned you become a better person. You understand humanity much more. And music is a gateway to the world. You know, so I think that what I do is always fresh because I’m always, like – I’m fascinated by everything.
MARTIN: I can’t let you go without asking you about Miriam Makeba ’cause you were such a – you’re both so brilliant. But just hearing about your relationship, it just sounds – it’s just like such a nightmare on one hand. On the other hand, so – I don’t even know what to make of it, really.
MASEKELA: Oh, yeah, I mean, our personal relationship was like, not even hills – mountains and valleys. But Miriam Makeba was the epitome, the very portrait of what Africa was about. You know, her grandmother, and her great-grandmother and her mother were all traditional healers. Miriam Makeba helped everybody she could have a chance to help, regardless of who they were. And she helped every liberation movement in Africa and outside Africa – the civil rights movements, in South America. And she would take her last clothes and give them to students or, like, buy medicine for refugee camps. And she was the most generous person I have ever known, you know, and…
MARTIN: But your personal relationship just sounds like a nightmare. Just…
MASEKELA: Well, it wasn’t a nightmare for us, you know.
MASEKELA: It might look like a nightmare, but it was – when you grow up in the township, what me and Miriam went through overseas is very light stuff…
MASEKELA: Compared to, like, what happens even in the ghetto, you know, where, like there’s – you know, there’s even killings, you know, because people out there are pretty loose.
MARTIN: You have had such an amazing life. You’ve seen so many things. You’ve been part of so many musical movements. I don’t even know where to start. But do you have some advice for someone who loves music as you do?
MASEKELA: Well, I think that the best advice you can give anybody is that if they love something and they want to be involved with it, the first thing they have to do is to be honest with themselves. How much do they like this and do they have a passion for it? And second, they have to be, like, honest about, have they been told that they seem to be very talented in this field? Because whatever you go into, you have to go in there to be the best. There’s no formulas. It’s all about passion and honesty and hard work. It might look glamorous, but it takes a lot of hard work. The blessing with the arts is that you can do it forever until you drop dead. That’s the blessing. And I’m 74, and I feel that I’m just beginning. So I think I’m very fortunate to have been, like, bedeviled by music.
The musical collaboration between legendary South African trumpeter, composer and singer, Hugh Masekela, and the Siparia Deltones Steel Orchestra has been described as a melding of musical forms that is destined to propel this nation’s musical genre further onto the world’s musical stage.
That was the general consensus following a free concert titled “Siparia to Soweto” at the Ellis Knight panyard, Railway road, Siparia last Saturday night. A number of songs by national musical icons such as the Lord Kitchener (Aldwyn Roberts) and the Mighty Sparrow (Slinger Francisco) were given a musical make over by the five-time Grammy award winner and the southern based steel orchestra at the event.
Masekela, 75, who was given a standing ovation, not only enthralled the large audience with his mastery of the trumpet but also provided humourous anecdotes about his life. He told them he had been “first turned on to Trinidad music by a Bajan girl” some 54 years ago who had asked him whether he had ever heard about the likes of Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow.
“That became the soundtrack of our romance,” he said, as the audience laughed heartily.
Masekela said he first heard the Siparia Deltones in 2005 when they performed at the San Fernando Jazz Festival and revealed that he was impressed by their performance.
“This group came on and they were playing some really jazzy music and after they finished, I said ‘wow’,” he admitted.
He said eight years later, while at the St Lucia Jazz festival, he was invited to participate in a musical collaboration with the steelband. He had journeyed to Trinidad after this and spent time learning the “songs of the country.”
Masekela also revealed that he had spent six weeks in the “jungle of Fyzabad” where, in addition to learning about the music and the Trinidadian language, he had also learned how to “burn red jeps” that had taken residence outside the music studio. He also learned various preparations to control mosquitoes and bats, the latter of which lived in the ceiling.
“I have fallen in love with the music,” he said, adding, “and now I can understand what everybody is saying.” After another enthralling musical set, Masekela, who spoke to the audience in a conversational tone, said he had prepared for the rehearsals by eating lots of Julie mangoes saying they made him cry.
“I cry whenever I eat Julie mango, it is such a joy,” he said.
Masekela also revealed that he had discovered Trinidad’s other musical forms, such as chutney music, saying he had initially thought that chutney was “something I eat in my curry”. He then introduced a song set that included the tabla (drums).
“In this project, I tried to get as many facets of Trinidad culture,” he said, before introducing singer, Alicia Jagessar, who sang a parang with a jazz/steelband flavour.
The album, which was co-arranged by Deltones’ Carlton “Zanda” Alexander features 12 songs comprising classics from Lord Kitchener, the Mighty Sparrow, Baron (Timothy Watkins), the Mighty Shadow (Winston Bailey) and Daisy Voisin together with two songs composed by Alexander. Masekela was born in Kwa-Guqa Township, Witbank, South Africa and began singing and playing piano as a child.
He was given the Order of Ikhamanga in the South African National Orders Ceremony in 2010 by South African President, Jacob Zuma.
The Siparia Deltones, which was founded in 1962, comprises of 73 members, mainly students and have participated in several competitions.