This week we lost one of the greats, Hugh Masekela. The South African Trumpeteer was known as the “Father of South African Jazz”. Born in 1939 in South Africa, Masekela was mainly raised by his Grandmother who operated an illegal bar at a time where Black South Africans were banned from drinking alcohol. Growing up in apartheid South Africa and experiencing the constant injustices that were inflicted upon the black majority influenced his music greatly. It reflected the hardships faced by the South African population and voiced protest against the systematic oppression the government was imposing.
In 1959, Masekela along with Dollar Brand (later known as Abdullah Ibrahim), Johnny Gertze, Kippie Moeketsi and Makhaya Ntshoko formed the Jazz Epistles – an African Jazz group that gained quick recognition and popularity.
In 1960, following the Sharpeville massacre where 69 protestors were shot dead by the South African government and restrictions against black members of the population congregating were imposed (making live performances almost impossible), Masekela fled South Africa and headed to the UK where he attended the Guildhall School of Music. Later that year he moved to the USA to study classical trumpet at the Manhattan School of Music and was helped by the musicians Harry Belafonte. South African singer and activist, Miriam Makeba, had also moved to New York that year. In 1964 the two were married, only to divorce a few years later.
Masekela had several hits in the USA including “Up up & Away”, “Grazing in the Grass” and “Puffin on Down the Track” and he was awarded 3 Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Pop Performance (Instrumental) – “Grazing in the Grass” in 1968, Best Musical Cast Show Album – “Sarafina! The Music Of Liberation” in 1989 and Best World Music Album – “Jabulani” in 2012.
One of his most renowned songs is “Soweto Blues” – sung by his ex-wife Miriam Makeba, mourning the lives lost in the 1976 Soweto Riots in South Africa. Another is “Bring him Back Home” a song that was adopted as the anthem of anti-apatheid, calling for the release of Nelson Mandela.
Maskela also collaborated with and featured on works by the Dave Matthews Band, Paul Simon, The Byrds.
The African music world has lost another giant, an artist who through his music, gave voice to struggles and protest, mourning and celebration. Hugh Masekela died on the 23rd of January 2018 to a struggle with Prostate cancer, leaving behind a son (Selema) and daughter (Pula Twala) as well as two sisters (Barbara & Elaine). Rest in Peace “Bra Hugh”.
“Soweto Blues” Live in 1988
“Grazing in the Grass” live with the Dave Matthews Band in 2013.
“Bring Him Back Home” live