Tributes pour in for jazz legend Hugh Masekela
World mourns veteran musician
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