Tributes pour in for jazz leg­end Hugh Masekela

World mourns veteran mu­si­cian

African Times - - Entertainment - MOYAHABO MABEBA

THE sound of the cel­e­brated trum­pet has gone into deaf­en­ing si­lence! This comes as a shock fol­low­ing the sad­den­ing death of leg­endary mu­si­cian and pro­ducer Ramapolo Hugh Masekela who passed on at the age of 78.

Masekela was a world-renowned flugel­hor­nist, trum­peter, ban­dleader, com­poser, singer and de­fi­ant po­lit­i­cal voice who re­mained deeply con­nected at home, while his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer sparkled.

Mo­ments af­ter the sad news cut across South Africa and be­yond, his dis­traught fam­ily is­sued a state­ment on Tues­day to con­firm his pass­ing.

The state­ment read in part: “Af­ter a pro­tracted and coura­geous bat­tle with prostate can­cer, he passed peace­fully in Johannesburg, South Africa, sur­rounded by his fam­ily.”

The fam­ily went on to say: “A lov­ing fa­ther, brother, grand­fa­ther and friend, our hearts beat with pro­found loss. Hugh’s global and ac­tivism con­tri­bu­tion to and par­tic­i­pa­tion in the are­nas of mu­sic, the­atre and the arts in gen­eral are con­tained in the minds and mem­o­ries of the mil­lions across six con­ti­nents and we are blessed and grate­ful to be part of a life and ev­er­ex­pand­ing legacy of love, shar­ing and van­guard cre­ativ­ity that spans the time and space of six decades. Rest in power beloved, you are in our hearts.

“Bra Hugh was some­one who al­ways en­gaged the press ro­bustly on mu­si­cal and so­cio-po­lit­i­cal is­sues. We laud the me­dia for re­spect­ing his pri­vacy through his con­va­les­cence, and dur­ing this, our time of grief. Our grat­i­tude to all and sundry for your con­do­lences and sup­port.”

The jazz veteran has been bat­tling prostate can­cer since 2008 and in March 2016 he un­der­went eye surgery af­ter the can­cer spread.

He had to go into the­atre again in Septem­ber 2016 af­ter an­other tu­mour was dis­cov­ered.

In Oc­to­ber last year, Bra Hugh can­celled a sched­uled per­for­mance at Hugh Masekela Her­itage Fes­ti­val in Rockville, Soweto, to ded­i­cate him­self to bat­tling the disease and called on all men to go for reg­u­lar can­cer check-ups.

Al­though Masekela was born in Kwa-Guqa town­ship in Wit­bank, Mpumalanga, where he be­gan singing and play­ing the pi­ano as a child, his roots are deeply en­trenched at the close-knit vil­lage of Eisleben in the Bot­lokwa area where the Maseke­las are held in high re­gard.

Al­beit he hardly vis­ited his an­ces­tral home due to tight mu­si­cal sched­ules, he en­deared him­self at Mokomene ceme­tery where he bode farewell to his name­sake Ramapolo Felix Ramok­gopa who played the role of “Kgaribis­hane” in the Se­pedi TV drama, Boph­elo ke Sem­phego. His mov­ing send-off, which sent mourn­ers into un­con­fined delir­ium, was a melody from the trum­pet fol­lowed by the Ramok­gopa praise song. Af­ter see­ing the film Young Man with a Horn when he was

14, the young lad who grew to be af­fec­tion­ately known as Bra Hugh be­gan play­ing the trum­pet.

His first trum­pet was given to him by Arch­bishop Trevor Hud­dle­ston, an anti-apartheid chap­lain at St Peter’s Sec­ondary School.

Like good red wine, Masekela soon mas­tered the in­stru­ment and by 1956 he be­came a mem­ber of the Al­fred Her­bet’s African Jazz Re­vue.

Bra Hugh’s mu­sic was in­spired by the tur­moil that South Africa ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the much­ma­ligned apartheid era. While he was still alive, he said his mu­sic was used as a weapon to spread po­lit­i­cal change. With the Sharpeville mas­sacre in mind and jazz seen as an ex­pres­sion of re­sis­tance, per­for­mances and broad­casts in South Africa were se­verely re­stricted.

Masekela took the op­por­tu­nity, along with many other mem­bers of the cast, to re­main in Eng­land, ef­fec­tively go­ing into ex­ile and en­rolled at the Lon­don Guild­hall School of Mu­sic, later mov­ing to the Man­hat­tan School of Mu­sic in New York. There he be­friended mu­si­cian and po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist Harry Be­la­fonte, and his mu­sic in­creas­ingly be­gan re­flect­ing the harsh re­al­i­ties of re­pres­sion and dis­crim­i­na­tion back home. Masekela mar­ried singer, ac­tor, United Na­tions good­will am­bas­sador, and civil rights ac­tivist Miriam Makeba in 1964, but the cou­ple di­vorced in 1966.

To­gether with Makeba, they toured Guinea in 1970 and met Nige­rian AfroBeat mu­si­cian Fela Kuti and the Gha­nian band Hed­zoleh Soundz. Makeba, af­fec­tion­ately known as Mama Africa, a fel­low ex­ile, lamented the suf­fer­ing and re­pres­sion in her home­land with a soul­ful torch­ing of Masekela’ Soweto Blues.

Masekela pro­duced mu­sic for the Mbon­geni Ngema’s mu­si­cal Sara­fina and was also fea­tured in Lee Hirsch’s 2003 doc­u­men­tary Amandla!: A Revo­lu­tion in Four-Part Har­mony.

In 1974, Masekela also re­leased his al­bum I Am Not Afraid, which in­cluded Stimela (Coal Train), a song that be­came syn­ony­mous with his per­for­mances for decades to come.

He per­formed at the Cul­ture and Re­sis­tance Con­fer­ence in 1982 in Botswana, in large parts or­gan­ised by the ANC’s cul­tural desk in ex­ile and draw­ing hun­dreds of anti-apartheid ac­tivists to­gether.

In 1985, he founded the Botswana In­ter­na­tional School of Mu­sic, fo­cus­ing his mu­sic more on mbaqanga sounds.

In his glo­ri­ous ca­reer, Masekela re­ceived nu­mer­ous awards through­out his life, among them the Or­der of Ikhamanga, South African Na­tional Or­ders Cer­e­mony; an honorary Doc­tor­ate in Mu­sic from the Uni­ver­sity of York; a Doc­tor of Mu­sic (hon­oris causa) from Rhodes Uni­ver­sity; and the African Mu­sic Leg­end Award - Ghana Mu­sic Awards.

Masekela is sur­vived by his wife, Eli­nam Cofie, whom he mar­ried in 1999 and for whom he penned the song Ghana, his daugh­ter, Pula Twala, and his son, Selema “Sal” Masekela, from his re­la­tion­ship with Haitian Jessie Marie Lapierre.

IT is now 29 years since Dr Abubaker As­vat was killed un­der bizarre cir­cum­stances. It was re­ported then that two thugs en­tered his surgery and opened fire on him. The thugs did not take any­thing from him nor from the surgery, rais­ing sus­pi­cions that the mur­der was a po­lit­i­cally-driven as­sas­si­na­tion.

As­vat, who was ded­i­cated to his pro­fes­sion, was an ad­her­ent of Black Con­scious­ness and con­ducted his per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ples of the phi­los­o­phy which, amongst oth­ers, tell that “Black Man You Are On Your Own”. This prin­ci­ple was re­alised at the height of the op­pres­sion of black peo­ple in the land of their birth and the de­nial of ne­ces­si­ties such as pro­vi­sion of health to them.

His un­timely death cheated many poor black peo­ple of a ded­i­cated health prac­ti­tioner, for As­vat would pro­vide his ser­vices to them with­out ask­ing any­thing in re­turn, a feat that led to him be­ing known as the Peo­ple’s Doc­tor.

His killing re­mains un­solved even to­day, and the au­thor­i­ties un­der the now demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion are silent on the mat­ter. His fam­ily con­tinue to live un­der agony, hop­ing that one day the truth will emerge.

How­ever, years have gone by and noth­ing has ever been said about the cir­cum­stances that led to the bar­baric killing of As­vat. It will be a hit on the nail’s head to as­sume that there is no longer an in­ter­est by the present govern­ment to cor­rect the in­jus­tices com­mit­ted in the past – es­pe­cially the killing of many pro-lib­er­a­tion ac­tivists.

The fam­ily of As­vat, and many other fam­i­lies across the coun­try, still de­mand to know what had ac­tu­ally hap­pened to their loved ones who were killed sim­ply be­cause they were fight­ing against the evil sys­tem. Per­haps the govern­ment will lis­ten to them.

PASSED ON: Jazz leg­end Hugh Masekela. Pic­tures Den­vor de Wee/ Vis­ual Buzz SA

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