Tribute to the South African legend of Jazz, Ramapolo Hugh Masekela who died on the 23rd of January in South Africa at the age of 78 of prostate cancer.
He was the author of Soweto Blues (South African freedom song) which he wrote in June 1976 following the Soweto massacre, interpreted by Miriam Makeba who was his wife at the time.
And for the record, the Soweto massacre includes a series of demonstrations that began on the morning of June 16, 1976 led by black students from the public high school in South Africa.
Nearly 20,000 of them participated in these demonstrations, which killed 176 people from official sources, and nearly 700 from other sources. And since 1991, the Day of the African Child is being celebrated every year on June 16 throughout the African continent, in memory of the massacre of children in Soweto.
The trumpeter also uses bugle and cornet, sometimes plays with a blend of anger and hope, “Bring him back home’‘ that he wrote in June 76 on a Funky and Jazz tune , became the anthem for Nelson Mandela’s liberation movement. A song that was banned by the apartheid regime.
Another title that perfectly illustrates his struggle: “Stimela”, in tribute to the black miners, and “Thanayi”: a woman’s struggle to survive.
With a career spanning more than five decades, Hugh Masekela has gained international recognition with his unique Afro-Jazz sound and several hits around the world.
He has played alongside stars such as Janis Joplin, Otis Redding; and in 1974 he helped organize the historic boxing festival between Mohamed Ali and George Foreman in Kinshasa.
In 1968, his instrumental single “Grazin’ in the Grass” became number one on the American charts.
Hugh Masekela was also fighting other battles, including the fight against drugs and other excesses. He wrote and I quote:
“I was hooked on money, when I could find it, addicted to drugs, which were never hard to find, hooked on love, hooked on sex and music, and not in any hurry to get sober. In fact, it took me several decades to wake up. End of quote.
As a teenager, he left Soweto for London in 1960, a departure he considers sine qua non. In London, he joined the Guildhall School of Music before flying to New York where he met the great icons of American music: Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte, Jimmi Hendrix and Marvin Gaye.
His career really took off in the United States. There he developed a strongly hybrid music imbued with funk, and associated with African music. He fought hard for the worldwide recognition of African music.
He returned to South Africa after the fall of apartheid, Masekela continued to make his voice heard on stage but also in politics. He is critical about the Black economic emancipation programme set up by South Africa’s new government.
Married four times, Masekela won the “legend of the year” award at the MTV Africa Music Awards in 2016 and played the same year for then US President Barack Obama.
The entire nation has indeed lost an exceptional musician who would have taken over from South Africa’s Minister of Culture Nathi Mthenthwa.