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“I Don’t Bite My Tongue in this Book”


Hugh Masekela Signs with Jacana for the Local Release of His “Lost” Memoir

Books Live

Jazz legend Hugh Masekela was in the Jacana Media offices this afternoon to sign the contract for the local publication of his memoir, Still Grazing, which came out internationally in 2004 but was never released in South Africa.

Masekela said he believes South African society has become complacent since the time of Steve Biko and other young intellectuals of the apartheid era, and hopes that his book can stand as an example of the forthrightness needed to turn the country around.

“In 1990, when all the apartheid laws were dropped, we were probably one of the most intelligent societies in the world,” he said. “Since then, I think we have become dumbed down, not by freedom itself but by the hype that we are free now.

“I don’t bite my tongue in this book,” he said, adding to Impey: “I hope you have some bail money for me …”

“We’ll sell loads of copies of the book, and use that money,” she joked.

The book was first released in 2004, but disappeared more or less without a trace, much to the consternation of Masekela’s fans.

“The way it came to South Africa, which is the only country where it went out of print, is because when I was signed to Sony Records, the head of Sony at the time was smart enough to agree to buy a whole consignment from Random House, and I twisted Exclusive Books’ arm to bring it into the country,” Masekela explained. “So they brought in a limited amount, but you can’t find it now anywhere. In the States, they just put it out there, they didn’t do anything else. So it’s one of the world’s biggest secrets outside of South Africa – and in South Africa.

“But no matter where we go, people ask ‘Where can I buy the book? I’ve tried Amazon, I’ve tried Mississippi, I’ve tried the Nile River …’

“So we’re happy that Jacana elected to release it.”

Masekela is currently writing an update to the book, as the original version ended in 2002. However, he explained how a large chunk was recently stolen from a train – in Europe.

“I had about 56 pages of what I’ve been writing,” he said. “But I just came back yesterday from a European tour, and we were on a train after a concert in Frankfurt, in first class, eight of us, and we were very relaxed – this was a luxury train – but when we got to Paris my suitcase was not there. I got very homesick right away,” he joked.

“I lost 56 pages, my expensive pairs of shoes, three of my favourite ties, my lint remover – the things I miss most!

“So my advice to you is when you travel, don’t use an expensive suitcase. This is what I discovered after 60 years of travelling.”

Despite the setback, Jacana MD Bridget Impey is confident of a late October publication date.

All copies of the first print run will include Masekela’s latest CD, Playing @ Work.

About the book

Hugh Masekela is a prodigiously talented giant of jazz and world music, and a pioneer in sharing the voice and spirit of South Africa with the rest of the world, but his globetrotting tale transcends music.

First published in the USA in 2004, this autobiography shares with rich detail Masekela’s life, infused with love and loss, sex and drugs, exile and revolution. He survived it all, with wit, passion, abundant talent and wisdom, and is now bringing his story back home!

A new foreword and afterword to his autobiography will add fresh insights into the life of one of today’s few living world-class artists and rare spirits.

Still Grazing narrates a magical journey around the world in this epic, music-soaked tale of love, excess, exile and home.

Masekela’s life began in a South Africa haunted by violence, but redeemed by the consolations of family, music and adventure. As the grip of apartheid tightened, he was driven into exile and embarked on what would become a 30-year pilgrimage around the world. His first stop was New York City, where he was adopted by legends such as Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis and Harry Belafonte. Masekela lived through some of the most vital and colourful music scenes of our time: blowing with bebop greats in New York, playing with a young Bob Marley in Jamaica, hanging out with Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone in the 60s, and getting lost in the madness of Fela’s Afropop explosion in Lagos. He loved extravagantly, and was married to Miriam Makeba for some time, experimented wildly with drugs and alcohol, and stumbled into adventure after adventure. And through the hit musical Sarafina (which he conceived with Mbongeni Ngema), the Graceland tour he spearheaded with Paul Simon, and his fearless on-the-ground activism, he worked tirelessly to add his voice to the anti-apartheid movement. When he eventually returned to South Africa, he at last found the strength to confront the personal demons that had tracked him around the world, and attained a new measure of peace at home.

Unfolding against the backbeat of the most revolutionary musical movements of the last forty years and one of the most inspiring political transformations of the twentieth century, this is the utterly engrossing and deeply effecting chronicle of a remarkable, one-of-a-kind life.

Hugh and Sal Masekela


Miss Ntertainment
Nadia Neophytou

There is a lot we know about Hugh Masekela’s story – about exile, about excess, about love, about jazz – much of which has been told through his excellent biography Still Grazing: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela. But there is still much more to be heard and understood, which is why I am looking forward to seeing the film Alekesam debut at the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival.

It’s about the respected musician and how his exile from South Africa for over 30 years as a result of Apartheid impacted his relationship with his son, Selema Mabena Masekela, who we have come to know on TV as ‘Sal’. Masekela’s time in America saw him earn a number one hit with Grazin’ In The Grass in 1968, and Sal was born a few years later in 1971. Masekela left America – and Sal – to return to South Africa, where he would continue to play an important role in the struggle for freedom. 39 years later, the two confront the implications of the time apart that separated them, and the music that helped bring them back together.


Director Jason Bergh has said the film happened by a “beautiful, perfectly-timed accident,” in that it was supposed to be a short promo for Sal’s new album. He says it grew to become the most important project he’s ever worked on – the story of a father exiled from his country, and a son exiled from his father.

Alekesam screens at the TriBeCa Film Festival from the 19th to the 29th of April. To download a single from the soundtrack, visit here.


Hugh Masekela is Now Taking the Literary Route

Photograph by Mabuti Kali

By Edward Tsumele

Photograph by Mabuti Kali

World-renowned South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who has just returned from a very successful tour of Europe, Ghana and Nigeria, is going literary.

Masekela, whose latest album Jabulani rates as one of his best, will publish a novel just in time for next Easter.

He told Sowetan yesterday it took him 13 years to complete the novel, titled Honky.

“This is going to be a Johannesburg thriller that readers will not be able to put down,” Masekela said.

“Honky is about a successful black musician just back from exile. He likes performing around the country. Then one day, while returning from a performance, he gives a white woman a lift to her home in Killarney. The woman is found dead the next day. The person who was last seen with her is Honky, whose real name is Sir Holonko. For now that is all I am prepared to say about Honky,” he said.

A few years ago he published a controversial biography , but Honky is his first work of fiction.

He said that there would be more novels from him in the future.

The trumpeter’s musical repertoire is diverse and he is comfortable playing jazz, original compositions as well as African folk music.

He said his recent tour of Europe took him to the UK, Germany and Spain.

Having played music for over half a century, taking him from Sophiatown’s cultural melting pot to England, the US, Nigeria, Ghana and Guinea, Masekela is probably our foremost South African musical export. And he is increasingly in demand overseas.

Asked about whether he would consider slowing down, Masekela said: “Music is my life. I cannot retire from myself. This is my job. I have always been involved with music in one form or another. I have never worked for anyone in my life.

“Well, there are other things that I am involved in such as HIV education and I am also involved in heritage restoration.

“We South Africans are fast losing our culture and heritage as a people. One day, with the way young people are losing touch with where we come from, we should not be surprised when our children say: ‘We used to be African. It is so tragic that it’s not funny the way and manner in which our rich culture is being forgotten’,” Masekela lamented.

See more articles about Hugh Masekela

Umlando – Through My Father’s Eyes



ESPN to Present 10-Part Series During 2010 FIFA World Cup: Hugh and Sal Masekela Explore South Africa

ESPN’s coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup [] will feature a 10-part series that offers an introspective look at the country of South Africa through the eyes of one of the host nation’s renowned ambassadors. In Umlando (Zulu for “Through My Father’s Eyes”), jazz music legend and anti-Apartheid activist Hugh Masekela and his American-born son, Salema, an ESPN reporter for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, explore together the people, culture and inspiring landscapes of South Africa, and the nation’s history.

The series captures aspects of the elder Masekela’s life, from memories of his childhood and learning the traditions of his ancestors to offering his impressions of living in South Africa under draconian Apartheid laws. In Umlando, Sal, who serves as ESPN’s host for the X Games, joins his father to explore the 2010 FIFA World Cup host nation in one of American television’s first truly in-depth portrayals of traditional South Africa. The project also represents the first time the two Masekelas are partnering together on a major television project.

“Of all the special elements being created for our coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Umlando will be the most evocative and emotional,” said Jed Drake, ESPN’s executive producer, 2010 FIFA World Cup. “It is a rare and powerful opportunity to explore this remarkable place. Our viewers will find Hugh and Salema’s journey fascinating, and memorable.”

Sal Masekela added: “To take a road trip with my father through his native South Africa to get to know its culture and history has always been a lifelong dream. To be able to take the whole world on the journey through the watchful eyes of filmmaker Jonathan Hock has changed my life. South African people are as unique and diverse as the country itself. I know the World Cup audience will feel the same way after riding shotgun with us on this adventure.”

Umlando was filmed in locations across South Africa in March. The series of 4-5-minute features will debut on ESPN Friday, June 11, and will air during FIFA World Cup studio programming on ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Mobile TV and ABC throughout the month-long tournament (June 11 – July 11). Features will also be available on’s FIFA World Cup site. []

Eight-time Emmy Award-winning director, writer and editor Jonathan Hock (Through the Fire, 2005 and The Streak, 2008) is producing Umlando. Hock’s last project for ESPN was The Lost Son of Havana (2009), the critically acclaimed documentary on Cuban-born pitcher Luis Tiant’s emotional return to his home country after 46 years in exile – 19 years of which he spent as a Major League Baseball pitcher for the Boston Red Sox and other teams.

Umlando – The 10-Part Series:

From LA to Ramogkopa: Sal Masekela embarks on his journey to South Africa from Los Angeles. Upon his arrival, he witnesses a special celebration at his father’s ancestral village of Ramogkopa, located on the Tropic of Capricorn. From his cousin, King Ramogkopa (a Botlokwa chief), Sal receives a gift bestowed only to members of the royal family. The village also performs traditional dances in honor of his visit.

Sharpeville: On the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre in this township near Johannesburg, Sal participates in the annual ceremonial “cleaning of the graves” where people gather at sunrise to pay tribute to the 69 people who were killed March 21, 1960, when the South African police opened fire on a peaceful anti-Apartheid protest.

Limpopoland: Beyond the city of Polokwane (a FIFA World Cup host city) is the Limpopo province where a resilient group of native Africans live with some autonomy, just as they did during Apartheid. Hugh takes his son to this region where the elder Masakela’s ancestors were master farmers.

Hopane’s Farm: Hugh tells the story of how his grandfather’s farm was confiscated by the apartheid government of South Africa after declaring it a ‘black spot’ in a ‘whites only’ area under The Group Areas Act (1950). With emotions and childhood memories from that experience still vivid, Hugh tells Sal it is a place he hasn’t been to in more than 60 years – a place where he will never return. Sal feels the need to go there on his own, with memories of a great-grandfather he never knew in his head as he gazes upon the land that used to belong to his family.

Township Jazz in Alexandra-Sophiatown: The hot-bed of South African jazz where Hugh’s music career began at age 14 – after he got his first trumpet from Archbishop Trevor Huddleston – the anti-Apartheid chaplain at St. Peter’s Secondary School. With the separation of races in educational institutions (Bantu Education Act of 1953), Huddleston closed the school. On the journey through Sophiatown, which was razed to the ground during Apartheid, Hugh points out the irony that the only building left standing is the church where Huddleston preached.

Witbank: Hugh’s birthplace and early childhood home, Witbank is a mining town about 90 miles east of Johannesburg. Hugh recounts comical and tragic childhood memories that inspired one of his greatest songs, “Stimela,” a narrative of the long train ride that brought migrant black coal mine workers from their rural homes to the mines.

Youth in Action: In an area where the HIV rate is over 80% among adults, Hugh and Sal visit with inspiring young South Africans trying to educate underprivileged children with hopes of brightening their future.

God’s Window: Sal journeys with Hugh to “God’s Window in Mpumalanga,” the third-largest canyon in the world and one of South Africa’s natural wonders.

In the Land of the Xhosa: Hugh leads Sal deep into the rural landscape to the hills where Nelson Mandela grew up. A Xhosa queen welcomes Sal, where he is dressed in traditional regalia, fed traditional food and home-brewed sorghum beer, and participates in the dances of the people.

Zulu Nation: Hugh and Sal visit a remote Zulu village where many still choose to live in “the old ways” of their legendary King Shaka – defiant and unyielding – miles beyond the nearest electricity and modern convenience.

About Hugh Masekela:

Legendary South African trumpeter, composer, singer, and anti-Apartheid activist
A member of South Africa’s first youth orchestra at 14.
He joined the orchestra for the musical King Kong in 1958
Left South Africa to study music abroad following the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960, heading first to London, then to the United States where he enrolled at the Manhattan School of Music
1968 Grammy nominated song “Grazin’ in the Grass” sold more than four million copies
Released the critically acclaimed “Stimela,” a song about the coal train that transports black mine workers from the hinterlands to the mines, in 1994
1987 hit single “Bring Him Back Home” became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela
Masekela launched his first tour of South Africa in 1991. He has since returned and lives in South Africa

About Sal Masekela:

Host of ESPN’s X Games and Winter X Games
Co-host of E! network’s The Daily 10, a countdown of the day’s top 10 entertainment stories
Avid surfer action sports aficionado. Described by some as the face and voice of action sports
Co-founder of Stoked Mentoring, a U.S.-based organization dedicated to mentoring at risk youth through actions sports