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Hugh Masekela Honoured by Wits University

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.



UKZN Honours Masekela with Doctorate

UKZN Doctorate

Fanele Mhlongo

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.

Bra Hugh Vouches for African Unity

Ghana Inauguration

21 January 2017
Sowetan Live
Lesley Mofokeng


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.”



No Borders


Press Release
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.

Zimbabwe: Tuku Heaps Praises On Bra Hugh

Photograph by the Goodlife Family

The Herald
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.”

Hugh Masekela Reminisces On Musical Motivations, Mandela


WAMC Radio
Michel Martin



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.


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.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

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.

MARTIN: Really?

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.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

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.


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.

MASEKELA: (Laughing).

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.

MARTIN: (Laughing).

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: Fifty-eight.

MARTIN: Fifty-eight.

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.

Hugh Masekela entertains in Siparia

Richardson Dhalai

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.

Trumpeting His Love for SA Languages

Times Live
Thekiso Anthony Lefifi

Photograph by GARY VAN WYK
Photograph by GARY VAN WYK

Hugh Masekela was terrified of losing his ability to speak South African languages during his 30 years in exile.

The legendary trumpeter, one of three musicians featured in the 21 Icons South Africa project, left the country shortly after the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 to study music in the UK and at the Manhattan School of Music in New York.

He received much assistance from another South African musical icon, the late Miriam Makeba, who was already living in the US. She introduced the then 21-year-old to international stars such as Harry Belafonte, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.

Much earlier, as a schoolboy, his band was given a trumpet by the legendary jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong.

“I was already crazy about Louis Armstrong. We sang all his songs,” said Masekela.

“Trevor Huddleston, who had been the school chaplain, met Armstrong and told him about the band, and Armstrong sent us his trumpet and we became famous here in South Africa. We even appeared on the cover of Farmer’s Weekly – ‘Black Boys get Louis’ Trumpet’.”

Stories such as these mask the pain of exile, but in a short film to be screened on SABC3 tonight at 6.57pm, “Bra Hugh”, as he is affectionately known, describes his fear of losing his ability to speak South African languages.

“I used to have a place in Central Park where I would go to talk to my imaginary friends. I was terrified that I was going to lose my language. So I would go there and I would start to speak in Sotho first, and I would change from that to Zulu and then to Xhosa, and then I would go into tsotsi Afrikaans.”

He knew that he would be able to come home when fellow icon Nelson Mandela was finally released.

In 1991, Masekela launched his first tour of South Africa, which was sold out. Since then he has made Johannesburg his home.

This weekend he launched a national tour of townships and rural areas, the Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival.

The two-time Grammy nominee is tired of seeing core fans travel from far to see him perform. This time he wants to go to them – “just like I used to in the olden days”.

Although the tour is billed as a heritage festival, the Stimela singer says the event is not about heritage month. In fact, he is perturbed that South Africans try to embrace their heritage on only one day of the year.

He fears that parents will one day not able to answer their children’s questions about their heritage and culture.

“They [parents] will say: ‘Once upon a time we were Africans,'” he warned.

Masekela’s portrait by photographer Adrian Steirn is published in the R16 edition of the Sunday Times today.

It was shot in a public park near Masekela’s home in Bryanston, Johannesburg, and plays on the musician’s smash hit Grazing in the Grass. Released in 1968, it sold more than four million copies worldwide.

Healing Our Heritage

Photograph by Gallo/Foto24

Destiny Man
Gwen Podbrey

Photograph by Gallo/Foto24

Jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela may be a global icon, but his heart remains firmly in Mzansi – and he’s looking to restore its cultural identity.

At 74, Bra Hugh shows no signs of slowing down or resting on his laurels. Far from it. Indeed, he’s involved in several projects – recording, performing and writing – while preparing for the Hugh Masekela Heritage Festival, which takes place on Saturday, 28 September at the Elkah Stadium in the Soweto Cricket Oval and includes appearances by Thandiswa Mazwai, Mi Casa, Jeremy Loops, Desmond & the Tutus, Pu2ma, Phuzekhemisi and Khaya Mahlangu. It’s backed by Assupol, Soweto TV and Jozi FM.

It’s a fitting event for a man who’s done more than any other local musician to put South Africa and its music on the global map, and who’s revered internationally not only for his unique style and his flawless technique, but also for his numerous compositions, his professionalism and – above all – his utter commitment to his art.

He’s also acclaimed for his remarkable versatility: this is a trumpeter who’s as much at ease performing laid-back, Thirties and Forties Cole Porter and Gershwin with his long-time friend, pianist Larry Willis (the two released a box set last year titled Friends, which is set to become a classic) as he is rocking up a storm at a live gig, spending many hours in the recording studio, helping to showcase other artists or attending to releases under his own label.

The upcoming heritage festival, he says, is something he’s long wanted: not to blow his own trumpet (though he’ll certainly be doing that too!), but to have a platform in the heart of SA’s best-known township to bring authentic South African music and artists to the people. “When I was growing up, music was an integral part of the townships,” he says. “We played and heard it all day. Music surrounded us at all times. On weekends there were brass bands playing and marching, kids chanting songs in the street and singing groups on every corner. We had no TV or other entertainment – music was our way of life. If someone was getting married, there’d be a white flag attached to the house and the choir would practise for days leading up to the event.

“Today, that’s all disappeared. People in the townships – particularly the youth – have completely lost that element. And with it, they’ve lost a huge part of both who they were and who they are. Kids have no idea of their history, of what their mothers and fathers and neighbours went through, or the role music played in binding communities together and helping people survive the years of oppression. They’re listening to other music, by other artists in genres that aren’t part of township culture, and sung in English. I fear the day when our young people say: ‘They tell us we used to be Africans once.’

“What I’m trying to do is restore pride in their heritage, in their ethnic identity, in their language and in their artists. So the festival is a good platform for that.”

He’s excited about the surge of explosive young talent in the country, and while he doesn’t regard himself as a mentor – rather as a fellow artist who happens to have a lot more experience and exposure, and who loves collaborating – he says he sees and hears daily proof of Mzansi artists who can ignite a flame of cultural revival that will burn for generations to come.

He’s also turned to stage musicals as another format for realising his cultural vision. His musical, Songs of Migration – written and directed by James Ngcobo and featuring stupendous diva Sibongile Khumalo – drew on Bra Hugh’s own iconic compositions (Stimela, Languta) work, as well as some of the most poignant and powerful traditional songs ever to emanate from South Africa’s dispossessed, divided and disinherited communities. The show was highly successful, with lengthy runs in Johannesburg, as well as performances in Cape Town and a tour to Europe. He’s aiming to revive the show, as well as do others reflecting the legacies of the Manhattan Brothers, Ladysmith Black Mambazo and Miriam Makeba.

Though he has no plans to retire anytime soon, Bra Hugh’s mindful of the need to document his career and his own remarkable journey, from shebeen-born Alexandra urchin to celebrated jazz maestro on the stages of Europe, Asia and the rest of Africa. It’s a journey that’s included wild, bohemian living, artistic and personal bonds with some of the greatest names in music, marital upheavals, personal heartbreak, substance addiction, rehabilitation and – above all – a passion for living, crying, laughing and uplifting through his instrument. His autobiography, Still Grazing, covered his life to the point where he returned from his years of exile to post-liberation South Africa. He’s now busy revising and extending it.

Then, of course, his extremely busy international touring schedule sees him spending much of the year abroad. And his recording work continues: his latest release, Playing @ Work, has been ecstatically received – and he has many more in the pipeline.

Anyone who’s watched Bra Hugh on stage knows why he’s considered one of the world’s greatest live performers: consummately professional, yet warm, relaxed and utterly unpretentious, he has audiences spellbound. His astonishing energy, vibrancy and discipline – as well as his superb group – take both music and audience to a state of near-hypnotic power. Yet for all the excitement, he’s in complete control of everything happening both on stage and in the audience. It’s a level of authority and confidence very few artists anywhere in the world can match.

Don’t miss his festival this coming weekend. It’s one of the most appropriate ways there could be of celebrating both SA’s heritage, and one of its greatest artists.

Working to Preserve the Heritage of South Africa

The Boston Globe
Siddhartha Mitter

Photograph by Kevork Djansezian for Getty Images
Photograph by Kevork Djansezian for Getty Images

He turned 74 a few days ago, and Hugh Masekela — the South African trumpeter, flugelhorn player, singer, jazz pioneer, folk music reviver, cultural activist, master entertainer, and all-around irrepressible spirit — is fairly bursting with energy.

At the helm of his working band of the last four years, a sharp crew of Cape Town players less than half his age, he’s on his annual tour snaking through the United States and playing music from “Jabulani,” his latest international release; “Playing @ Work,” a brand-new double album as yet only available in South Africa; and gems from his 43-album-deep vault of jazz, soul, South African funk, Xhosa folklore, Afrobeat, maybe the odd Bob Dylan cover, and who knows what else. Masekela comes to Berklee Performance Center on Sunday.

His verve, Masekela says on the phone from a tour stop in central Pennsylvania, comes first and foremost from the privilege of performing. “How many occupations do you know where you can engage 2,000 people and have everyone feeling?”

More prosaically, Masekela, who kicked a bad alcohol habit 15 years ago, says he draws force from his daily practice of tai chi, in the manner of the millions of Chinese who practice the discipline into old age. “When they are really old, they are still upright and calm,” Masekela says. “When you’re upright and calm, you’re like an antenna.”

Those who recall Masekela from his Afro-funk days of the 1970s, his “Grazin’ in the Grass” hit of 1968, or for that matter his early career on the South African jazz scene with the likes of Abdullah Ibrahim (then called Dollar Brand) in the late 1950s, may find that today, Masekela’s solos may be just a little briefer than in the past, his hearty singing voice just a shade less lusty. The years will do that.

But that antenna has never been more sharply tuned. Masekela is collaborating with an armada of young artists, popping up onstage with everyone from New York Ugandan-American singer Somi to Johannesburg art-rockers BLK JKS. He launched last year a production house and label to develop South African talent across genres. And despite performing and touring widely, he’s also, he says, constantly reading.

“I’m reading everything I can get my eyes on, except maybe bathroom graffiti,” he says. “From junk to Dostoyevsky.” His range is broad but his choices are still pointed. His current tour-bus fare is a tome titled “New Babylon, New Niniveh,” a scholarly study of conditions in the late 19th century in the Witwatersrand — the mining area where Johannesburg sits and where South African industry took shape.

“Johannesburg was built, for lack of a better word, by pirates and greed,” he says, summarizing his observations from the book. “And that set the standard for urban life in South Africa, the values. Acquisition is still the greatest thing that every South African is after.”

These days, Masekela takes every opportunity to advocate for the arts and initiatives to preserve cultural heritage in the face of unrelenting materialism — in South Africa and elsewhere. He views what he calls “heritage restoration” as a global priority that is especially crucial on the African continent, where museums and arts institutions are poor and have been low public priorities, and where each generation that passes away takes with it knowledge that can’t be replaced.

“Today’s aged have that last oral information,” he says. “And they are sitting in the backyard, in the shade somewhere, and we are not letting them share it with us.”

Masekela says he is working with several colleagues on plans to establish academies that will not only present and teach but also conduct research into African music, visual art, architecture, and design.

In a sense, the vision is a natural expansion of Masekela’s own creative investment in South African arts since his return to the country in 1990. He had left in 1960 after the Sharpeville Massacre signaled the hardening of the apartheid regime, and returned to a country in transition, with Nelson Mandela newly freed.

In the years since then, his music has increasingly drawn on South Africa’s mbaqanga funk style and new, jazzy interpretations of traditional themes. Many songs on “Jabulani,” some in Xhosa and others in English, tell stories of the ups and downs of marriage, ringing like jaunty, dance-ready funk fables.

In the end, however, trying to put categories on Masekela’s music is a fool’s errand. The man is far too eclectic. His new South African release includes a version of “Soweto Blues,” a classic he wrote long ago for ex-wife Miriam Makeba but had not recorded himself. It also features a cover of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

The impression emerges that Masekela’s borderless vision and creative instincts, though honed by decades in exile, have blossomed with each year since his return to his home country, like a plant whose branches grow out at the same time as its roots.

“The greatest privilege I had in life was to be able to go back to South Africa,” he says. “I can immerse myself in our heritage and ancestry, and I have access to the world as a free citizen. I’m just enjoying being alive as a free individual and having access to the whole world.”